“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars… And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Lk 21:25; 27-28)
Those who pray the Rosary each day are blessed at least twice per week to meditate on that miraculous event known as The Ascension (if they follow the regimen of St. John Paul II and pray the Glorious Mysteries on Sundays and Wednesdays). Meditation is necessary since when we think too hastily on Jesus’ ascension into heaven we miss out on its profound continuity; for as we shall see, it is not an event confined to the past, but a promise illuminating the future.
It is this promise of the return of Jesus that we celebrate during Advent. While Christians wait for the celestial signs predicted by Jesus, we seek also signs of grace within our hearts. One sure sign of grace is how joyous we become over the heritage which Jesus left us. Thus, we set aside time to pray and worship over the precious events of His life on earth such as the Incarnation and Nativity (even as we pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary). We battle against the disruptions of the secular, commercial Christmas which advance upon our Advent meditation. We celebrate Advent not only as a season of preparation for Christmas, but because Advent and Christmas are both seasons for preparation of the triumphant return of our Lord to the earth. All our Advents and all our Christmases embolden our hope in the return of Jesus Christ known as the “Second Coming”.
How do we prepare for this coming? St. Paul tells us in this Sunday’s second reading “to be blameless in holiness… at the coming of our Lord Jesus” (1 Thes 3:13). This is a tall order, for who among us is blameless and holy! The answer to this question is: the one who is sanctified through earnest repentance and forgiveness; for it is the extraordinary mercy of God that he forgives the sincere and repentant sinner who also, in imitation of God, forgives those who trespass against him.
In order to commemorate and prepare for the return of Jesus Christ, we place on our bulletin cover for this 1st Sunday in Advent a painting by the neoclassical artist John Singleton Copley entitled The Ascension (1775). Copley was born in Boston, MA and although he moved to England in 1775, his prior painting in colonial America left him famous enough to have a square, hotel, and plaza named after him. Even while residing in England he maintained a quiet sympathy for the American Revolution and became friendly with John Quincy Adams.
Our focus for this painting today is on the angels in the lower right quadrant. While the Apostles linger on the Mount of Olives after losing physical sight of Jesus, the angels proclaim, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky” (Acts 1:11)? The angels then offer assurance that Jesus will return in the same way he was seen going into heaven. Our call then is not to stand lurking at what is past, but to faithfully evoke our Christian memory while prayerfully preparing for our future glory.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services