Ascension Sunday: 'Go and Proclaim the Good News'

Members of the Catholic clergy stand by the roadside to show support during demonstrations in Mandalay. (Contributed photo)

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon

May the blessings of the Risen Christ who ascends to the Father after his mission was accomplished on earth be with you. As the apostles looked up to heaven when Jesus ascended into heaven, we too look up to heaven praying for peace in our land.

Today is a very significant day. 

Pope Francis, who has been accompanying us through his consoling presence amidst our people, will be celebrating a very special Mass at 2.30 our time in the afternoon with Myanmar people in Rome.

We are deeply moved by his kindness. He has spoken six times from the time the problem started. He made a direct reference to your place when he said: "I too kneel down in the streets of Myanmar and pray for peace." Surely, he was referring to the poignant act of Sister Ann Rose in the streets of Myitkyina.  

May the Papal Mass for peace and reconciliation bring a new dawn of hope. Let us all join together today wherever possible for the online Mass at 2.30 p.m. and pray for our country.

Our country’s future is in God’s hand. Let a new nation of peace rise from the prayers of Pope Francis and the global Church. Let us also pray for thousands of Kachins and Karens who are displaced by the recent conflict. The Lord who accompanied the Israelites from Egypt accompany our brothers and sisters in their jungle journey. Let all those who are starving in this land get their food; let all those who are in jails see their freedom. Never cease praying.

Today is Ascension Sunday, the day Jesus ascends into heaven. For forty days after resurrection, he was with the disciples, challenging them, consoling them. As he leaves them the disciples are sad. If Jesus is going to be absent in their lives, how can they proceed? They are confused; they are anxious.

We too, for the last three months, are anxious, confused and sometimes asked “Has God left us?” Where is God amidst all these tears, all this blood and all these suffering? What is the message of Ascension to us, in Kachin land, in Myanmar?

To understand the relevance of this feast to us in Myanmar, let us go back to the scriptures and see what was the message of Jesus to his disciples before he ascended?

There are three candid messages so relevant to our context. Though Acts, Mathew and Mark record Jesus last words as different messages, the Ascension message is energizing, consoling: 

1. The first message comes from Acts of The Apostles: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

Two major ideas from this passage:

a. You are not alone: The Holy Spirit will accompany you. Yes. Jesus did not leave us alone. Those of us who believe in the Holy Spirit can do great wonders. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are needed for all of us. Once empowered by the Spirit, the disciples stood against all forces of those days: the pharisees and the Roman Empire. None of the disciples were rich nor educated. When the Spirit entered them, they shook the world. When God is with us who can be against us? This is the message. For the last three months, our people underwent the darkness of despair. Evil seemed to have won and the good seemed to be losing. But the disciples give us encouragement: initially when Jesus went away, they were discouraged. Then they believe in the spirit and they are different. God is in charge; my brothers and sisters, take courage. The first reading affirms: You will receive the Spirit; you will be my witnesses.  

b. You will be my witnesses: What does Christ expect from his followers, disciples: Be my witnesses. Jesus brought great message of love, a message of forgiveness, a message of treating one another as brothers and sisters. He asked every one to show power through service. Simple message: love one another as I loved you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. How relevant this message to Myanmar people? Christians are called to bear witness to Christ’s message. This country can never be at peace as long as hatred and vengeance in our heart. We need to pray for those who persecute our people. Church needs to bear witness to reconciliation and peace making. Hatred can never be dispelled by hatred but only by love. Let us start this. Humanize those who do not know what is humanity. Let us win by love those who never knew the meaning of love. That is Christianity, that is the message of Christ. We are called upon to be witness to this redemptive love. This was the love shown from the Cross forgiving the enemies. 

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar (Photo courtesy of OSC-CBCM)

2. The second time we read about the Ascension from the Gospel according to Mathew “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Two Main Ideas from this simple sentence: 

a. Being a disciple is becoming a full-time soldier for the Kingdom of God: For the last three months, all of us we have known what is suffering. Thousands of families have lost their livelihood. Starvation is real. Millions starve every day. The turmoil has destroyed economy. The peace of the family. More Kachins have become displaced. If we believe in a God who is our creator and protector, how come we are victims of such huge suffering? Jesus will cry if he comes again and sees the present condition of people. If every plate of food becomes a way of the Cross, how can families praise God in the evening? The question needs to asked to every believer. Jesus came and preached Good news that will remove all human suffering: the heaven starting here:  

There will be a ‘New Earth; New Heavens – Behold God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be their people and God himself with them always as their God. He will wipe out every tear from every eye; there will be no more death no more mourning. (Rev 21: 1-6)

This is the mission Jesus wants from each one of us. Each one living in peace; each one working for the betterment of the other; all of us working for a world without tears. The events in our country tells us: our discipleship is not very strong. As I have often indicated we all turned into devotees of Christ, worshipping him but never working as his disciples to establish another world without human tears. God works through us. His Spirit works in us. Let us become full time disciples. “Christian” is not a noun but a verb. Faith without works, the apostle James warns, is empty.  (James 2) In today’s second reading St Paul exhorts the Christians: Attain the full stature of Christ.

b. Disciples of All Nations: We are eight major tribes and 135 sub tribes. How many of these people know the message of Christ? Christ is the messenger of peace, Christ is the embodiment of love, Christ is the witness to redemptive suffering, Christ is the consoler of the afflicted. This message has not reached most of our country men. Mother Teresa taught the millions of Indians that to be Christian means is compassionate service. What is the message of Christ to our country men and women? How did they understood Christ when they see us?

3. The third time we read about the Ascension is from today’s Gospel according to Mark: Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).   

Two Major Ideas from this last mandate of Jesus to his disciples:

a. Christianity is Good News: What is Christianity about? Asks the great theologian Karl Rahner “Christianity is the Good News to the Humanity.” The very word Gospel is Good News. Our existence is Good News. Our relationship is Good News. Our coming together to celebrate is Good News.  What is this Good News? Human life is about love. God loved us so much. He created us. He created our first parents and saw love is their energy. When human beings fell into sin, “God so loved the world, he sent his only son for redemption.”

The art of love is God working through each one of us. God loves each one of us as though we are the only ones in the world. It is unique. Christ’s supreme sacrifice on the cross is a poem of love, not torture displayed. How much he loved us? He stretched out his two hands and died on the cross. This is the message of Christianity we carry on the Ascension. Love yourself; love one another as I loved you. We need to learn to love ourselves and share that love. That is the message. By your love people will know my disciples; said Jesus. This lack of love is the reason for all human suffering. Men who cannot love themselves cannot love others. They bring enormous suffering on others. We are seeing that ferocity of men who have never tasted love. Hatred is the only language understood by them. Christianity cannot continue preach vengeance to such men. They are to be pitied like Jesus pitied and preach the alternative.

b. All Christians are called to Break the Word: Many times, Christians believe that priests and religious are in charge of all missionary activity. Proclamation is the fundamental Christian calling. Breaking the bread may belong to priests. Breaking the word (Proclamation of the Word) is the duty of every Christian. St Paul was candid: “Woe to Me If I Do Not Preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16)

Ascension feast gets us ready for the Pentecostal day. A new world was born after that with the disciples. Let us with great faith prepare for receiving the Holy Spirit. As Myanmar Christians, let there be a new energy for peace and reconciliation. Let us dream of a new world, fulfilling our obligation to preach the good news. Let Jesus last words be our continued encouragement: I will be with you always.