Sr. Melinda Roper, MM, on mission in Panamá, writes about how the Ascension of Jesus sends us on mission to preach the gospel to all creation.
In today’s reading from Acts of the Apostles, the author (presumed to be St. Luke) corresponds with his brother in Christ, Theophilus, whose name means “One who loves God.”
Through this exchange, we are all symbolically greeted as “lovers of God” and welcomed into the mystery of mission and to the adventure of living the Gospel of Jesus to the uttermost ends of Earth. In today’s Gospel, Mark expands our understanding of mission by challenging us to preach the Gospel to all creation.
As we remember the Ascension of Jesus, we also celebrate the tremendous confidence and trust God has in us to continue in mission, discovering the Reign of God in all creation today.
In the reading from Acts of the Apostles there are two questions that help us discern how to be in mission.
First, the apostles ask Jesus, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" It seems that this question is rooted in a cultural, political, economic and religious longing to restore an idealized history that would offer false hope in a time of violent and humiliating domination by the Roman Empire.
I think that the apostles had not understood very well Jesus’ message of the Reign of God, which is a call to service, forgiveness, compassion, and giving totally of oneself for the common good. The Reign of God is not establishing a kingdom nor anything else. It is changing our way of living.
This change requires a new vision and understanding of the Reign of God rooted in a new cosmology which energizes us to be Good News to all creation. Indeed, Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ names this “the Gospel of Creation” (Laudato Si’ Chapter II).
The second question is asked of the apostles by two people dressed in white: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking unto heaven?”
Some religious systems have confined God to heaven, to a place or space unavailable to most of us. Jesus showed his disciples in many ways that God is among us, that God is present in all life and all of creation.
We are growing in our awareness that God is not confined to heaven, nor temples, nor simply to religious practices. God flows freely through and beyond all creation.
From within the global experience of suffering and death brought about by the pandemic, I have read and heard comments that the effects of the coronavirus have been good news for much of the non-human community as well as for the atmosphere, the earth and water systems. This is attributed to the radical changes in human behavior.
The way we have responded to the virus teaches us that we are very capable of changing our behavior, not only “to stand looking unto heaven.” The Gospel today invites us to change and move on, but for motives other than fear. These motives are clearly explained in Laudato Si’.
Here in the tropical rainforest of Darien, Panamá, lives Celsa, a great-grandmother now, who, as a young woman, migrated to Darien from the westernmost province of Chiriquí. Along with many other migrants she was searching for land to cultivate in order to simply live.
Throughout the years, Celsa came to love the forest, and as few others, she has let it grow freely around her house. Wild turkeys and several kinds of monkeys are regular visitors, as well as the more subtle inhabitants of the rainforest.
I have learned from Celsa that evangelization is always mutual: we can be Good News to the forest and the forest, with all its biodiversity, beauty, mystery, interconnectedness, strength and fragility, is gospel for us.
At the heart of this experience is a transformation from the logic and structure of control to having eyes to behold the beauty around us and the wisdom to live wholeheartedly within the community of life.
The forest, as parable of the Reign of God, teaches that this Reign cannot be built and that the images of building and constructing are about controlling resources for our own goals. Perhaps the Reign of God is discovering and learning to live in harmony with God who is present in our midst.
On this feast of the Ascension may we be blessed with the wisdom to live as “those who love God:” to live with the spirit of Jesus and to be Good News to all of creation.