Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24: 46-53
Most Catholic dioceses in the United States have moved the celebration of Ascension Thursday to this coming Sunday, but a few dioceses, including the three in Massachusetts, are celebrating Ascension Thursday today. Interestingly, because of Jesus’ Ascension, the changes happening within the lives of his disciples prior to Pentecost are quite pertinent to the experience of you, our students, who are graduating tomorrow.
As we have just heard, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Now, humanly speaking, I would have thought that they would have been distressed that Jesus was leaving them. Following his resurrection on Easter Sunday, Jesus had appeared to them in various settings, and just as they were getting accustomed to his resurrected presence, he now leaves them to return to his Father. But instead of loss and sorrow, the disciples trust in his word that he will send them his Spirit so that they might assume their new role as witnesses among the people to his life, his ministry, his death and his resurrection.
Over the course of Jesus’ three years with them, the disciples have learned a great deal through his teaching, they witnessed miraculous experiences that were amazing in their power, and they also endured moments of great sorrow and momentary disillusionment because of his suffering and death. But with Jesus’ resurrection, they slowly began to understand the meaning of his life and death as acts of selfless and transformative love. The power of that graced realization now moves them to be witnesses in their world to Jesus’ truth and power. And as witnesses, they have seen and can verify the reality of his resurrection and the impact of his word. With the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they will not only serve as witnesses to his resurrection, but in their way of living, loving, and teaching, they will bear witness with their lives the reality of his continuing grace and power within them.
Over the four years that you, our graduates, have studied, worked and enjoyed life together on this campus and in various sites around the world, you have come to know yourselves, your gifts, and the nature of your unique challenges much better. Through graced moments of joy and celebration, and the very challenging experiences of three years of pandemic, ongoing racial and gun violence, the deterioration of our climate, war in the Ukraine and changing social dynamics and identity movements, you have learned what it means to be intellectually mature, spiritually engaged, morally authentic and socially involved. You are witnesses to the value and power of a liberal arts education grounded in Christian and Jesuit principles. But not only are you witnesses to the values of Jesuit education, you witness its efficacy when you model with your lives and your service what it means to match your values with your commitments.
Graduates, like Jesus’ disciples in the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke, your next steps in life will ask even more of you than your years on this campus. We are living in a dangerous and precarious moment in human history which affects every aspect of our lives and relationships. As engaged citizens of our country and the world, as professionals and prospective parents, as neighbors, citizens and members of various ethnic and religiously oriented communities, you will be faced with ethical issues, moral decisions, and political and social realities which ask for courage and commitment. The future of our nation, our world and our very existence require of you thoughtful discernment, engagement and responsibility, just as they did for Jesus’ disciples after his Ascension. Like them, the way forward will not always be clear or without cost, but in prayer and community, seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, rely on the companionship of Jesus, and emulate the compassion of God to guide you and empower you.
It is interesting that the term “graduation” suggests completion, while the complementary term, “commencement” suggests beginning. For you, today, both are true. A way of life that you have enjoyed is coming to an end, while a new way of relating to each other, to our world and to the College of the Holy Cross is now beginning. Just as God’s healing and compassionate love has been known to you here, just as Jesus has walked with you and forgiven you here, and just as the Holy Spirit has blessed you with insight and courage here, know that our loving God will always be with you in the years ahead, guiding you, strengthening you, healing you and leading you out into our needy world with conviction and hope. As Jesus disciples after his Ascension returned to the city of Jerusalem with great joy, you and I will receive our degrees tomorrow and move on from this campus to embrace a new and uncertain future. Let us go forth today in that same joy and confidence as his disciples, knowing that Jesus walks with us and his Spirit will help us to find our unique path forward.
As the great doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila, once said:
Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
As Pentecost approaches and moved by his Holy Spirit, let us embody Christ for future of our world. Amen.