Try to imagine what the disciples of Jesus might have been feeling after the Ascension. The Gospels are unanimous in recording that after the disciples encountered the Risen Jesus he led them out of the city and "ascended" out of their sight. So while they might have been overjoyed to encounter Jesus after the Resurrection, now they were alone. I suspect that all of us can understand their grief at losing the physical presence of Jesus.
For the past few days, the Gospel for our daily Eucharist has been taken from the "Farewell" Discourse of St. John's Gospel. Throughout that discourse Jesus speaks of their sadness at his parting:
Now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go (John 16:5-7a).
Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy (John 16:20).
Perhaps nothing of our human experience paralyzes as much as grief. Grief numbs. It makes it difficult to do even the most basic human tasks let alone the more complex activities that we are called upon to perform. While all of the evangelists address this issue to some extent, St. John puts the words concerning grief in the mouth of Jesus, preparing them for the days to come. However, because we know that this Gospel was written long after the events of which it speaks are over, St. John is also commenting on what the disciples did despite their grief; namely, they found solace in their memories of Jesus.
This is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Advocate. The Spirit was sent by Jesus to remind the disciples of the lessons they had learned at the feet of Jesus. They were reminded that they have been commissioned to continue the preaching ministry of Jesus, confronting sin, confronting injustice, and confronting judgment. While the world is guilty of great sin and great injustice in its condemnation of the Just One, his victory over death has proven that Jesus has triumphed over them. It is now time for the disciples to press forward through their grief by walking in his footsteps.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator