By Fr Walter de Sa
The pandemic of COVID-19 has undoubtedly shaken and woken up the humanity worldwide. It has badly impacted the lives of people in all spheres of human activity.
But the emerging reality is that the coronavirus epidemic has brought together the human race, irrespective of socio-political and cultural-religious barriers, to reach out selflessly to the neediest and those living on the fringes of society.
The crisis of COVID-19 has even affected the Church services and religious feasts which were held for the first time in its multi-secular history without the physical presence of the congregation of the faithful who normally throng to the Churches and shrines for the celebration of important and main liturgical feasts.
One such spiritual celebration is the solemnity of the Ascension of the Risen Lord which, in our parish of Panjim, is the second major feast, the first one being the feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, patroness of our parish and which is celebrated normally on December 8.
The liturgical calendar has scheduled the feast of the Ascension for 24 May 2020. The Ascension of the Lord is one important feature of the Paschal Mystery. Jesus, after his resurrection, on the fortieth day, ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father. This is an article of faith which we profess every time we recite the Creed of the Apostles.
The evangelists, Luke and Mark, have documented the Ascension of the Lord in their gospels. Besides, Luke also records it in the Acts of the Apostles wherein he begins his writing by noting down first the Ascension of the Lord. Addressing to Theophilus, he writes that he “dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1: 1-2). In the last chapter of his gospel, Luke writes that, “as he (the Risen Lord) blessed, he left them (the apostles), and was taken up to heaven” (Lk 24:51). Likewise, Mark, following the same sequence of the events, mentions in the last chapter of his gospel, the fact of the Ascension of the Lord. He writes, “Then, after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven.” Further, he adds a noteworthy detail by stating that, “and he took his seat at God’s right hand” (Mk 16:19).
Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, records the speech of Peter to the community concerning the issue of choosing someone in the place of Judas Iscariot. According to Peter, the replacement had to be one from among those who had been with the apostles and Jesus, right “from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us” (Acts 1: 21-22).
Prior to his Ascension, the Risen Lord spoke to the apostles and promised them the Holy Spirit with whose power they were to be his witnesses all over, “even to the ends of the earth,” and thereafter, writes Luke, “He was lifted up before their eyes in a cloud which took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).
The Ascension of the Lord indicates the power of God who raised him up from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in heaven (Eph 1:20). In this manner, he was exalted and glorified in fulfilment of God’s salvific plan which He accomplished to the highest perfection. He is thus proclaimed as King and Lord of the whole universe. The only weapon of his Lordship is love that encompasses justice, compassion, forgiveness, beyond limits.
The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus has left an impact on our lives too. He is now for us the WAY that we need to tread if we want to win eternal life. At present, he enlivens our hope that he will calm down the storm we are facing in these difficult times when the entire humanity is engulfed in the spikes of the corona virus.
This time, the feast of the Ascension, though without external manifestation, will not dampen our spirit. A nine-day novena in preparation for the feast, consisting of Mass followed by Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, was live-streamed for the spiritual benefit of our parishioners, so that from their own home, together with their family members, they could participate in the same as if they were present in the Church. In this manner, this was an attempt to strengthen the community spirit among the parishioners and thus make our parish into a family of one mind and heart. No doubt, this feast will be celebrated more in silence, in the interior of the heart, in hope and in faith, so that we will triumph over the pandemic COVID-19.
We wish all the readers, in general, and our Panjimites, in particular, a joyful feast with showers of divine graces of peace, serenity and joy.
(Fr Walter de Sa is Parish Priest at Mary Immaculate Conception Church, Panaji)