Today – today I choose to indulge myself. At four score years and four, I presume to take a stand on that thin collection of privileges earned by age. I make a claim for wisdom: T. S. Eliot's wisdom – the wisdom of humility. I find shelter in his claim that "The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility."
That has an appeal. In its unassuming manner, humility keeps burrowing into my consciousness. It follows a path worn by experience. It pushes me ever so slowly to that kind of wisdom. 'Tis my hope.
It goes like this: an incident will reveal an item of interest, perhaps greater than itself. Then I enjoy the feeling that I may have found something unheard of in all the world's history. Eager to share, I tell it to the next person I meet.
For example, one Sunday at Mass, the implication of words from the Book of Revelation struck my hearing – a quote from Jesus, "I am the Alpha and the Omega." Alpha and omega! Greek letters! Did Jesus speak Greek? What have I discovered? I must ask around.
'I am sending upon you what my Father promised.'
I chose my victim – a sort of mentor. "No surprise there," he said knowingly. "The first translations of the books of the New Testament were from the Greek. They contain a bunch (his description) of Greek words like agape, baptisma, amen, Christos. It's commonly known."
Ah me! Humility once more, and wisdom too.
Now into this same readiness for discovery come the theme and readings for today's Mass. Meditation on them made their special significance evident. Surely, in the ascension of Jesus into heaven, we have a greatest single event, great like the two other greatest events of his life, the Nativity and the resurrection.
The creed we recite at Mass catches those three "greatests" with simple language: born, rose and ascended. The Ascension has its own grand message: with Jesus' departure, Christians have the charge of doing his will on earth.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus takes his leave and in this last post-resurrection appearance, he reassures his disciples of the power they will shortly come to know. As he rose, "they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy," confident in the comforts his last words had brought them.
"Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with the power from on high" – the gift of Pentecost.
Big thought comes: our artists must have seen the Ascension as a subject needing their attention and so it happens. The seemingly limitless resourcefulness of Google gathers an array of paintings, sculptures, windows and bas-reliefs.
A search of "the ascension of Jesus Christ in art" found at least 70 different interpretations of this drama. They span the centuries and many cultures. Don't forget it as one of the glorious mysteries of the rosary. And today – today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord.
People should know of this! I'll tell it around.
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)