Week After Ascension

The Promise of the Father

We recently celebrated Jesus' Ascension, which took place after he had spent forty days with his disciples after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. But what was he doing during that time?

[Jesus] presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God
While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.” — Acts 1:3-5

In short, Jesus was preparing his disciples for the coming of his kingdom, which would have something to do with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Like the other Jews of their time, the apostles were intensely curious about the kingdom:

When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, 
and to the ends of the earth.” — Acts 1:6-8
Rather than allowing the apostles to worry about the "when" of the kingdom, Jesus draws their attention to "how" and "what."

The "how" of the kingdom is the power of the Holy Spirit.
 The Spirit will come upon the first disciples at Pentecost in the form of tongues of fire. He also comes invisibly upon each Christian at their Baptism. The Spirit strengthens us further in Confirmation and gives us other graces through the various sacraments. But "what" do all these graces empower us to do?

The "what" of the kingdom is the evangelization of the nations.
 The Holy Spirit gives us myriad gifts we can use to build up the kingdom by preaching the Gospel and strengthening our brothers and sisters. We build up the kingdom primarily by building up the Church.

Does this mean that the kingdom and the Church are one and the same? Yes and no. Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, calls the Church "the sacrament of salvation." One might call it the visible sign of the kingdom:

The Church, to which we are all called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things. At that time the human race as well as the entire world, which is intimately related to man and attains to its end through him, will be perfectly reestablished in Christ.

Christ, having been lifted up from the earth has drawn all to himself. Rising from the dead he sent his life-giving Spirit upon his disciples and through him has established his Body which is the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, he is continually active in the world that he might lead men to the Church and through it join them to himself and that He might make them partakers of his glorious life by nourishing them with his own Body and Blood. Therefore the promised restoration which we are awaiting has already begun in Christ, is carried forward in the mission of the Holy Spirit and through him continues in the Church in which we learn the meaning of our terrestrial life through our faith, while we perform with hope in the future the work committed to us in this world by the Father, and thus work out our salvation. (48)

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

This collect prayer begins the Mass for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Jesus is calling us to "take up battle against spiritual evils." We'll explore fasting itself in a few weeks; during the week of Ash Wednesday, we're going to dig into an important set of weapons the Lord gives us to fight evil: sacramentals.

What's a sacramental? Well, if you attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, you're probably going to receive one on your forehead.