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The Ascension of the Lord

Out of the Depths

Jesus has gone back to the Father in Heaven, and has promised to return. The Church has come through its own death and resurrection experiences in the past weeks with the death of the great John Paul II, and the election of Benedict XVI. It is now ready to go out again, to "ascend" back to its mission.

The choice of the name Benedict shows perhaps at least two strands to that mission: the new Pope indicated in his first sermon that he wants to see the growth of a mature and adult faith based on the creed of the Church, clear in what we believe and strong and vibrant in its liturgy and preaching, stressing the beauty of the Truth of what we believe. I think he is mindful of the spiritual riches of our cultural inheritance preserved in the dark ages by the Western monasticism of which St Benedict was the father. As Benedict is the patron of Europe, the Pope clearly wants to see a revival of the faith in all its splendour, engaging the secular and materialist culture of Western Europe.

However, he has also indicated in the same sermon that he wants to engage with the wider world of the other Churches, especially the Orthodox, and the other ecclesial communions. He also wishes to enter into an honest dialogue with the world religions, especially with our elder brothers and sisters in Judaism and with the world of Islam.

Then there is the inheritance of the efforts of his predecessor, Benedict XV, who worked so hard to bring peace to the world during and after the First World War, and to bring about peace and reconciliation in the Church of his time. All this might herald both a time of re-evangelisation and reconciliation.

Perhaps we are just at the beginning of a realisation of the depth and width of the work of John Paul II, especially of his plumbing of the mysteries of the encounter between God and humanity, above all the profundity of the drama at the heart of mystery of the human person in his or her engagement with the person of Christ. We see this in all his encyclicals and personal writings both as Pope and before. These show forth his depth. His travels and mastery of the means of communication showed his width -- that of the universal Church and his outreach working for peace and justice for all.

In his earlier life he enjoyed being a football goal-keeper. He inserted the present Holy Father as the "goal keeper" for the faith, in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Now he and we have the opportunity to "ascend" from that previous depth and width to present that faith in a joyful and humble way to our present and future world.

Our ascension is marked and blessed by the Ascension of our Crucified and Risen Lord, with the gift of the Holy Spirit to go out in the mission of today's Gospel:

Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations: baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always: yes to the end of time.

Surely there can be no endorsement and encouragement to our mission greater than this, especially when we are discouraged and downhearted. Having gone down in grieving for the loss of one Holy Father, we look to another one "poping" up, and this one has "poped" up quickly, to give us both continuity and change. However, it is also up to us to respond to the gift of the new one by supporting him by our prayers and love in hope and faith.

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