How the Ascension makes our life better through Pentecost

A friend recently shared with me a story about his childhood that helped me to better understand the significance of the Ascension in our lives. My friend grew up in Chile. When he was about 10 years old, his father took on a new job and moved to the United States. The plan was that his dad would begin working in the United States while making preparations so that the rest of his family could immigrate there after one year. My friend explained how incredibly difficult it was for him to say goodbye to his father at the airport when he left for the United States. He was not thinking ahead to the fact that he would see his father again soon enough. As a 10 year old boy, the only thing that he had in his mind was that he would not be with his dad for one year. This seemed like an eternity to him. At the time it felt like his father had abandoned him and his family.

After some time, his dad got settled in the United States. He used the money from his pay cheques to start making preparations for the rest of his family to join him. In addition, he sent some cash from his paycheck back to Chile each month. My friend explained that after his father moved to the United States, their lives in Chile immediately improved because of the money his dad was sending them. Finally after one year, the rest of his family immigrated to the United States. This move drastically changed my friend’s life for the better. He was able to get a great education and eventually discovered his vocation to the priesthood in this new country. In the beginning, my friend had viewed his father’s move as an abandonment. In the end, he learned that, in spite of the huge sacrifice, his father needed to separate himself from his family for a time in order to make a better life for them.

At the Ascension we can all feel a bit like my friend when his father left for the United States. We can feel abandoned when Jesus ascends to heaven. Would it not be better if He had stayed here with us? Whenever we needed Him, we could simply go to Him. After the Ascension, Jesus can feel so distant. We too can feel abandoned. This is far from the truth. Like my friend’s father, Jesus has gone before us to prepare for us a new, better life. Eventually we will experience this life to the full when we “immigrate” to God our Father in heaven. Even before this day, however, Jesus is making our lives better. He too is sending some cash from his paycheck back home to improve our lives. The greatest gift that Jesus sends to us now is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is already transforming our lives here and now. It is this gift that we celebrate and remember each Pentecost. The Ascension is necessary because Jesus wanted to create for us a better life.

Not recognizing Jesus

When I read the Bible stories describing how Jesus appeared to His disciples after He had risen from the dead, I can feel some jealousy towards the disciples. Because of when and where they were born, they were fortunate enough to see the Risen Christ with their own two eyes. I only I had this experience my faith would never waver! I would fear nothing! I would have an unshakable hope in all that Jesus promises!

Whenever I start to think like this, an important detail from Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances as told in the Gospel of John brings me back to reality: the disciples were in the presence of Jesus but they did not recognize Him. First, Mary Magdalene is weeping at the tomb, thinking someone has taken away the body of Jesus. Jesus is standing right beside her, speaking with her, but she doesn’t recognize Him. She thinks He is the gardener. Later, while Peter and other disciples are fishing on the Sea of Tiberius, a man appears on the shore and gives them fishing advice. Again, they do not recognize that it is Jesus.

The peculiar fact that the disciples can be standing right next to the Risen Jesus and even speak with Him without realizing who He is, teaches us that their experience is not much different than us who live some 2000 years later. We are not at a disadvantage for having been born when and where we were. Like the disciples, the Risen Christ is always present, working in our life, but often we do not recognize Him.

Mary Magdalen only recognizes that the gardener is in fact Jesus when He calls her by name. Peter and the other disciples recognize that the man giving unsolicited counsel from the shore is in fact Jesus when the advice helps them bring in a miraculous catch of fish. If we are attentive, Jesus reveals Himself to us in similar ways. Like Mary Magdalene, we can hear Jesus call our name when we read scripture, when someone unexpectedly offers us a kind word of encouragement, or when we are struck by the beauty of nature. Like Peter and the other disciples in the boat fishing, Jesus shows Himself by blessing our actions in a way that is beyond our capabilities. For example, we are able to help someone or say something to them that blesses their life in a way that is far beyond the power of our action alone.

During the Easter Season we celebrate the fact that Jesus has truly risen from the dead. Each year, we remind ourselves that the Risen Jesus is very present in our own life, strengthening us and filling us with peace, hope and joy. This happens in proportion to our ability of recognizing the simple ways Jesus shows Himself to us each day. Take a moment to look back over the past week. What is one concrete event through which Jesus revealed Himself to you? Let us recognize these events often and give thanks for them, crying out like the disciples “it is the Lord!”

What four murdered nuns teach us about dying with dignity

The discussion around assisted suicide in Canada is becoming increasingly volatile. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the law banning assisted suicide, stating that the law, which had made it illegal for anyone to help another end their life, violated a citizen’s Charter Rights. The federal government has until June to deliver a new law. In response, a special Commons-Senate panel was created in order to hear testimony from various experts and ultimately present recommendations to the government. Recently this panel released its report. It recommends that access to doctor assisted dying be made readily accessible at publically funded health-care institutions and not just be limited to the terminally ill. Those with mental illnesses and psychiatric conditions should be able to chose to have a doctor end their life. Even minors, the report states, should be able to have a doctor help end their life.

Many leaders, within the Church and otherwise, have strongly voiced their concerns about the report. They argue against the idea that Catholic Hospitals and doctors and nurses who are opposed to assisted suicide should be forced to help people take their own lives. They argue that if what the panel report comes to pass in Canada, it would have a damaging effect on some of the most vulnerable in our society. Jean Vanier, a man who has dedicated his life to caring for the sick and handicapped, recently pointed out this danger. Those who are dying, the elderly, the handicapped and the mentally ill can feel at times that they are a burden to their families and communities. With the legalization of assisted suicide, they may feel pressured to ask a doctor to end their life. Vanier explained that such an “unconscious inducement” would lead vulnerable individuals “to believe that hastening their own death is a socially generous and responsible act. An ethos that may subtly support such thinking can lead to a deep and subversive betrayal of an individual’s right to live their life out to its natural end.”

Central to the case of those arguing for a person’s right to assisted suicide is the claim that being able to have a doctor end your life allows you to die with dignity. The argument then becomes that Catholics and others who oppose assisted suicide are preventing people from dying with dignity. For those promoting the right to assisted suicide, this is a clever way to frame the debate. After all, who wouldn’t want someone to die with dignity?

We all agree that many people suffer terribly at the ends of their lives and everyone wants such individuals to die with dignity. What we disagree with is what it means to die with dignity.

In the midst of the heated debate after the panel report was released, news broke of the murder of four Missionary of Charity Sisters in Yemen. These sisters, who were part of the religious community started by Mother Teresa, were killed by gunmen along with at least twelve people they cared for. These murdered sisters teach an important lesson about what it means to die with dignity. Before they were killed, they were helping to run a nursing home for disabled and elderly people who have no one else to care for them. From the start, an integral part of Mother Teresa’s work was caring for the dying, helping them to truly die with dignity. Mother Teresa told the story of a man her sisters found dying in a drain, half-eaten by worms. They brought him to their home and cared for him. As he was dying, he told them, “I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.”

The four murdered Missionary of Charity sisters teach us that dying with dignity does not mean possessing the right to have someone else help you end your life. People die with dignity when they are deeply convinced - as a result of the actions of those around them - that they are loved and that their life has value. For many of the most vulnerable people in our society, assisted suicide will erode their sense that their existence is of value and will prevent them from truly dying with dignity.