“Levelling up” in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Cycle B, 16 May 2021
Acts 1:1-11  ><}}}'>  Ephesians 4:1-13  ><}}}'>  Mark 16:15-20  
Photo by author, Egypt 2019.
So then the Lord Jesus,
after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven and 
took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth
and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through
accompanying signs.
(Mark 16:19-20)

Thus we heard the closing of St. Mark’s gospel of Jesus Christ. We deliberately chose the word “closing” than “ending” because the Lord’s Ascension is more than an episode in his life but speaks to us of his mystery as the Christ continuing in our time.

The Lord’s Ascension is neither a location indicating heaven somewhere in outer space where Jesus “took his seat at the right hand of God” that we profess every Sunday in the Apostles’ Creed nor a direction of going up, leaving us all behind below here on earth.

If the Ascension were a location or a direction or both, it would mean separation. Then, how could St. Mark claim in his gospel account “the Lord worked with them” if Jesus had really gone to somewhere else?

There is something deeper with the Lord’s Ascension being a part of the mystery of Jesus as the Christ. It is our relationship with God expressed in our relationships with one another in Jesus, through Jesus, and with Jesus who is the head of the Church with us as his body.

In celebrating the Lord’s Ascension, Jesus is inviting us to “level up” our relationships with God and one another in him, with him, and through him while it continues to happen daily among us characterized by our loving service and kindness to everyone which St. Paul reminds us in the second reading.

Brothers and sisters, I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace; one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and one Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Ephesians 4:1-7
Photo from Dr. Yanga’s Colleges, Inc. community pantry in Bocaue, Bulacan called “Paraya”, April 2021.

Christ’s mystery in Ascension revealed among us

See the eloquence and mastery of words by St. Paul in writing his Letter to the Ephesians while imprisoned in Rome with a lot of time to pray and contemplate the mystery of Christ and his gift of salvation to us.

Here we find St. Paul so fatherly in reminding us all of the wealth and richness of our Christian vocation as the Lord’s disciples by living in “humility and gentleness, with patience through love” to preserve our “unity of the spirit through the bond of peace”. This is the application (praxis) of the Lord’s teachings at his last supper we have heard in the last two weeks of his being the true vine and we his branches who must remain in him in love.

As Jesus “entered” into a new level of intimacy in the Father in his Ascension, he invites us to “level up” and deepen our relationships with God through one another to become his presence in the world as a community or a church: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism“.

The mystery of the Ascension, of Jesus joining the Father to seat at his right, is expressed and revealed in our community living as his disciples united in his very virtues mentioned by St. Paul. This was made possible by Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection as St. Paul spoke about ascension so different from our typical concepts of location and direction but more of the mystery of Jesus Christ as “The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph.4:10).


The Ascension presents us 
a clear image of unity in Christ 
that after seven weeks of celebrating Easter, 
we  are confronted today with the question: 
"Is Jesus working with us or, 
are we the only ones working without him at all?"

The very person of Jesus Christ is the measure, the standard we follow, not just norms and code of conducts because he is the only one highly exalted (Phil.2:9-11) for having gone through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection expressed as his one whole mystery in the Ascension until his sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we celebrate next week.

The Ascension presents us a clear image of unity in Christ that after seven weeks of celebrating Easter, we are confronted today with the question: “Is Jesus working with us or, are we the only ones working without him at all?”

To work with Jesus is to work with others, to work as one community. When there is a community, there is always a mission and vice-versa. This is the meaning of the words spoken by the angels to the disciples after the Lord’s ascension.

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Acts 1:11

We cannot remain idle while waiting for the return of Jesus.

As a community of believers and followers of Christ, we actively await his “Second Coming” by striving to live in holiness so that we may eventually make this world a little better and more humane like what happened with the recent “community pantry movement” started by Ms. Ana Patricia Non in Maginhawa Street, Quezon City now all over the country helping the poor and hungry.

It is a direct response to Vatican II’s universal call to holiness: “all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society” (Lumen Gentium, #40).

Posted by Jean Palma on Facebook, 18 April 2021 with the caption: “All these community pantries in four days, and counting. What a powerful movement.” #CommunityPantry

55th World Communications Sunday

And speaking of Vatican II, today we are also celebrating the 55th World Communications Sunday with the theme, “Come and see (Jn.1:46). Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They Are.”

The World Communications Sunday is the only feast instituted by Vatican II through the Decree on the Means of Social Communication (Inter Mirifica) issued in December 4, 1963 to remind the faithful of our responsibility to contribute in the social communication ministry of the Church.

In this year’s message, Pope Francis tells us that the Lord’s invitation to his disciples to “come and see” is also the method for all authentic human communication where we personally experience every person to know his true situation in life.

It is in our personal encounter with others that we are able to share with them the redeeming presence and truth of Jesus Christ through our witnessing in faith, hope and love. True communication is the giving of one’s self in love for others, when we try to be humble and gentle and patient as St. Paul reminds us today.

Communicating Jesus Christ cannot happen entirely in mediated forms and methods, through gadgets nor techniques but only through persons through whom Jesus works and confirms his words through accompanying signs of love and mercy, kindness and understanding.

However, as communicators of the Lord, we have to keep in mind that Jesus is the focus, not us. It is the work of the Lord, not ours.

May the Ascension remind us anew to simply do the work of Jesus by focusing on him and his words, not on ourselves. May we priests and other church communicators forget all those aspirations to “trend” or be “viral” with most “likes” and “followers” to become “influencers” or at least popular to whatever degree to be adored and idolized by fans (and paid by sponsors).

It is Jesus Christ who must rise, not us. So, let us be rooted in the Lord as we keep reaching for the stars while keeping our feet on the ground in our community. Amen. A blessed week ahead with everyone!

From Forbes.com via Facebook, 2019.

Christ’s ascension, our mission

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, 24 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 ><)))*> Ephesians 4:1-13 ><)))*> Matthew 28:16-20

Paschal candles at the entrance to the burial site of Jesus inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2017.

We are now at the penultimate Sunday of the Easter Season with the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Next Sunday we close the season with Pentecost and begin the Ordinary Time following Monday.

But, with our situation expected to last until 2021 when we shall have a vaccine against COVID-19, it still feels like Lent for many of us who now feel the economic and psychological impact of this pandemic.

More than ever before, we are challenged today to give testimony to Christ’s Resurrection so we can grasp the meaning and beauty of our celebration today.

The Ascension of Jesus is not about his movement or change of residence from earth into heaven or some remote part of the deep space to start his “working from home”: the Ascension of Jesus is the “leveling up” of the relationship of Christ with his disciples who include us all today.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20
Dome of the Chapel of the Ascension beside a mosque outside Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2019.

Giving testimony to the Risen Christ

Notice how our gospel today does not speak much about Jesus Christ’s ascension or his being taken up to heaven unlike with Luke both in his gospel account and Book of Acts of the Apostles.

With Matthew, it is very clear that with Jesus Christ’s departure comes the mission to give testimony to him who is risen from the dead. Every disciple’s testimony is essentially his/her mission to proclaim to the world that Jesus is alive, that he is Life itself.

Like during his Ascension on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is calling us all today to gather again around him, to seek those who are lost and forgotten in order to bring them all together in Christ especially at this time when people suffer more from the neglect and double-standards of this government than from COVID-19 itself.

Where is God?

We are about to end two great seasons in our liturgical calendar but it seems that we are stuck in the Holy Week. We wonder what have happened to us in this pandemic when every scene we see, every situation we are into are unbelievable, something we see only in movies. And this one’s for real!

For those of us who have not lived through wars like our parents, the atrocities of Martial Law like others, or great catastrophes like the Baguio earthquake of 1990 and the recent “Yolanda” in Samar and Leyte, when the only sufferings we can “brag” are “Ondoy” and EDSA traffic, we now live life in the most uncertain way. In between the temporary escapes and respites offered by Netflix and social media platforms, we go through a lot of self-doubts, sometimes with fits of depression or sadness and loneliness especially when the day ends and darkness begins to envelop us.

For the first time, many of us have truly experienced of not having that much in life, whether they are family and friends, or money and things.

Window inside the Chapel of Ascension, May 2017.

This is the call of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: that we gather ourselves anew, our families and friends, our memories, most of all, our faith and hope in God whom we have always taken for granted all these years.

This is the great challenge of our time as Christians: how can we be like the Apostles and other followers of Jesus along with his Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary be filled with joy at his departure, bearing all the pains and sufferings of persecution in this time of the corona virus?

Can we gather ourselves anew – not only our family and friends but our very selves to proclaim in our lives, in our presence, in our social media posts, in everything that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is with us always?

Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might….

Ephesians 1:17-19

Opening our hearts

I have always loved that part of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, imploring God that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, that we may be opened to the truths and realities of Jesus Christ truly alive in our midst.

Giving testimony that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is alive, that he is Life itself needs an open heart.

Our minds will never be enough to capture, to understand and process everything about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ because it is something beyond history, beyond logic. We are sure it had truly happened, leaving imprints in the hearts and persons of all of Christ’s followers, from his first witnesses like the apostles down to us in our own time. What we need are listening hearts, seeing hearts… hearts that are open to the realities of God dwelling in us.

You must have followed the news last week about Mang Dodong of Caloocan City who was detained for more than ten days in Navotas where he was caught buying fish without a quarantine pass.

We were all saddened and affected by the news because it was at that same time when the President had pardoned and retained in position a police general who had violated quarantine rules he had vowed to implement. In fact, so severely in many instances including with Mang Dodong!

Good news is how so many people helped him pay his bail to be set free. That’s the risen Jesus working in our own time!

Fish vendor Joseph Jimeda, aka, Mang Dodong in his detention cell in Navotas. Photo from GMA News.

The path of love towards Easter and Ascension

What really makes this quarantine period too difficult and painful is not COVID-19 itself but the incompetence and injustice of this government personified by officials who are mostly arrogant, inconsistent, liars, and closed from the realities of life. They are so blinded by material things that they see businesses like malls as more essential than houses of worship that remain closed up to this day (unfortunately, even our bishops are so silent about it except for a few of them).

Sometimes, I feel we are not doing enough as witnesses and disciples of Christ, that we must be bolder and more adamant in insisting what is right, what is just with various social media platforms offering us venues for expressing our views.

But, as I prayed more about the pandemic in the light of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the more I see him present in his seeming absence by being silent amidst all these threats of the pandemic worsened by the government’s irresponsibilities, insensitivities, and injustice.

The very site where Jesus is believed to have stood during his ascension now encased in glass inside the Chapel of the Ascension. Photo by ator, May 2017.

To give testimony to the Risen Lord, to make disciples of all nations, and to teach everyone all he had commanded us to observe need not use force. Like Jesus and the Father, we need to remain gentle and patient despite the violence prevailing around us.

See how God patiently waited for the fullness of time before sending us his Son; and when Jesus was born, notice also the many trials he went through from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Nazareth, reaching its highest point in his Passion and Death on the Cross on Good Friday.

Then came Easter Sunday and now, his Ascension.

Everything happened in silence, so gently and gradually, mostly with only a few people present.

That has always been the way of God from the Old Testament to the New Testament and right into our own time: no use of external powers and violent forces, only freedom to offer and elicit love that conquers all.

Today we are also celebrating the 54th World Communication Sunday, the only feast mandated by Vatican II for us to realize the importance of modern means of communications in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

For this year, Pope Francis has chosen the topic of the human story, of how our individual story is woven into our collective stories as a family, nation, and church. And the good news is, according to the Pope, all these stories of ours are made part of God’s story of love, the greatest story of all, the story that renews us.

Yes, we all have dark stories in this time of pandemic. Or even in childhood or the past. But, if we look into our hearts in prayer and in faith, we find Jesus there, loving us, keeping us, guiding us. Most of all, authenticating his resurrection in us, in our own life!

There are more beautiful stories we can tell during this pandemic that enable others to see the Risen Lord among us. Let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, to keep our hearts open as he authenticates our many experiences of witnessing to his Resurrection like he did to all others ahead of us.

Be assured we are on the right path in him. Amen.

Pilgrims waiting to enter the Chapel of the Ascension in the Holy Land, May 2019.

“The Nearness of You” by Rod Stewart (2002)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music, Ascension Sunday, 02 June 2019
Pilgrims on top of Mt. Sinai, Egypt. Photo by Atty. Grace Polaris Rivas-Beron, 07 May 2019.

Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, the beginning of a new level of “nearness of God” with us.

And that explains the reason for our music this Sunday, “The Nearness of You” composed way back in 1938 by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Ned Washington. The song debuted in 194o and since then has delighted many hearts and souls with its lovely melody and music interpreted by so many artists in every generation.

I have chosen Rod Stewart’s version taken from his 2002 album It Had to be You: The Great American Songbook because the song fits him so well. Yes, Rod is a rocker but he had matured so well that after all the noise, he has grown deeper in his art that his unique voice suddenly had acquired a depth coming not only from the heart but even from the soul. I won’t be surprised at all if one day Rod Stewart would be talking about some sort of spirituality and holiness.

Now back to our Sunday celebration of the Ascension of Jesus Christ…

15th century Greek icon of the Ascension of Jesus. From Google.

In the gospel today, St. Luke tells us that after Jesus had ascended into heave, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy.”

That is totally strange because whenever someone leaves, the general feeling is always sadness like when we have to change residence or old neighbors move out, when loved ones have to go abroad to work or worst, when a beloved dies. They all bring sadness.

Where did that great joy among the disciples of Jesus come from after the Lord had ascended into heaven?

From their hearts! The key to understanding and appreciating the Ascension of Jesus into heaven is not in looking up the skies or looking down on the ground where he stood. It is in looking deep into our hearts.

Anything that remains in our head or in our mind is always open to doubts. When that truth we believe in sinks into our hearts, then we get the conviction that it is really true. And that is when we experience great joy within: It is in the heart where we come to conviction that leads us into living authentically no matter how painful that truth may be. That is why there are saints and heroes – including lovers – willing to die for their beliefs because they are so convinced with the truth in their hearts.

From Google.

At the Ascension, the disciples had the conviction that Jesus is truly alive, that his going to heaven is more of coming to a new level of existence and relating with them, something no longer bounded by time and space, something always so near and so personal.

It is the same feeling we have with those we love. Even if they are not physically present with us, we feel their nearness because we love.

There lies the beauty and timelessness of the song “The Nearness of You”: nothing beats the love that brings us so close, so near with one another. Unless we have that deep conviction and love for a person, we will never rise up – or ascend – to higher level of relationship that is so near, so close.

 It's not the pale moon that excites me
That thrills and delights me, oh no
It's just the nearness of you

It isn't your sweet conversation
That brings this sensation, oh no
It's just the nearness of you

When you're in my arms
And I feel you so close to me
All my wildest dreams come true

If you can say these words to a beloved, imagine when you level this up to Jesus Christ? That would definitely be a new level of nearness with him and with others.

Look into your heart, believe, and be convinced.

The Nearness of God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, 02 June 2019
Acts 1:1-11 >< }}}*> Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23 >< }}}*> Luke 24:46-53
The Chapel of the Ascension believed to be the site where Jesus stood before ascending into heaven while his disciples looked at. Photo by author, 04 May 2019.

Outside the old city of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives is the Chapel of the Ascension believed to be the site of Jesus Christ’s Ascension into heaven. Though the octagon-shaped structure is massive and very high, it is quite small inside with just one door for entrance and exit. Immediately upon entering that door on the floor is a framed slab of stone called the “Ascension Rock” venerated by pilgrims because that is where Jesus stood before going up to heaven.

The Ascension Rock. Photo by author, April 2017.

But personally, in the two occasions I have been there in 2017 and last month, my focus have always been more on the four windows of the chapel’s dome.

The rays of light coming through them have always evoked in me the beauty of Christ’s Ascension with a feeling that is so uplifting. The morning rays of the sun gently filling the room with light warms your heart as if angels are keeping you company like what we heard from the first reading during the Ascension of Jesus.

A window at the dome of the Chapel of the Ascension. Photo by author, April 2017.

As I prayed this week on the meaning of the Solemnity of the Ascension by recalling my two pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the light of our readings today, it is only now have I realized that the key to this feast is not found in looking up to the skies or looking down on where Jesus stood before going up to heaven.

It is in looking more into our hearts, looking deep inside us can we truly find the meaning of the Ascension of the Lord.

This feast is an invitation to get inside our hearts, not just into our minds and imagination to appreciate the words of Jesus Christ these past two Sundays about his “going and coming in a little while” (Jn.13:31, 33;14:25;16:16,20).

Remember how Jesus these past two weeks kept on speaking about his leaving and his coming at the same time? Of how we reflected last Sunday that in life, we do not really leave but simply come into new level of existence and new level of relating with God and with others?

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.

Luke 24:50-53

Normally, it is sadness that we feel most in every leaving and departures: when kids leave home to pursue college somewhere, when a father or a mother leaves abroad to work over a long period of time, or a beloved dies. Though the cliche may be right sometimes that “parting is such a sweet, sweet sorrow”, the fact remains there is always sadness whenever we leave or somebody leaves us.

That is why St. Luke’s account of the Ascension is strange when he tells us that Christ’s disciples “then returned to Jerusalem with great joy” after the Ascension. St. Luke does not give any hint or a tinge of sadness among the disciples when Jesus left them to sit at the right hand of God almighty Father in heaven. And, the Holy Spirit has not come down yet. Where did the disciples get this great joy after Jesus had left?

Detail of a 15th century Greek Orthodox icon of the Ascension of Christ with Mary so calm while the apostles very animated, eager to proclaim the gospel. From Google.

We do not have the details at how this great shift happened that the disciples were filled with great joy after Ascension but, the Scriptures and the stories of the saints as well as those of some true heroes provide us with some answers and reasons.

According to St. Luke as well as the other evangelists, Jesus came to see his disciples for many days (40 according to Luke) after Easter. The Lord taught them with some more lessons preparing them for his coming Ascension. Most of all, Jesus made his disciples experienced his new mode of presence in his glorious body. He showed them his wounds and dined with them so often to convince them that he had really risen.

In all instances of his appearances, there was always joy among the disciples. Slowly, the disciples’ joy in knowing Jesus is risen deepened into great joy at the Ascension when this truth sank deeper into their hearts too that they have finally and truly accepted Jesus is alive!

When a truth or a reality stays only in our minds, that is always open to doubts. But, the moment that truth or reality we know is brought down to our hearts, that is only when we truly accept it as really true. And that is when we are filled with great joy because we are already convinced without any doubts of the truth or reality we have received.

Saints and heroes alike find great joy in their sufferings and death because of their convictions in their hearts that what they knew in their minds are very true. They lead “authentic” lives because what they knew in their minds was what they felt in their hearts that they eventually say and do. It is only in authentic living can we find great joy in living, no matter how painful or difficult it may be.

15th century Greek Orthodox icon of the Ascension. From Google.

And that is the great joy in the Ascension of Jesus Christ: the disciples, like us, start living authentically because we are deeply convinced that the Lord had not left us but had in fact launched a new level of nearness with us. His Ascension is the finality of the redemption he had won for us coming right into our hearts when we realize that Jesus did not simply die and rose again for a nameless mass of people. He did everything personally for each one of us.

This is what social media can never give us. Despite its great popularity, social media have left many of us still sad and even sick with various forms of mental illnesses. Everything that happens in the Net often remains up in our heads, rarely sinking into our hearts that still keep us apart despite our connections.

In his message for the 53rd World Communications Sunday we also celebrate today, Pope Francis invites us to connect deeper into the human community and not just in social network communities. The Holy Father stresses that interconnection must go down into personal encounters in the flesh, not just in virtual reality, calling for a shift from “likes” to “amen”.

Poster by Kendrick Ivan Panganiban.

How ironic that all these modern means of communications were invented to bring us all closer together but it seems the opposite is happening. We are growing apart and have become more impersonal than ever! We are all guilty of so often clicking the “like” button without having read the complete post or seen the photos of our relatives and friends. We rarely take time to “process” what we read and see on Facebook by people we call “friends” who often number to thousands. What an inauthentic way of living!

The Ascension of the Lord is a call to authentic living as it launched a new level of nearness of God with us and us with him and with one another. Unlike in the Old Testament as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews explained, Jesus did not enter a sanctuary made of human hands, referring to the old Temple worship that was never complete due to human imperfections. When Jesus came and went through his pasch, he brought God closest to us. We can rise up or ascend to his new level of relationship, new level of existence by rising up also from our infirmities and limitations in him who dwells in our hearts. A joyful month of June to you! Amen.