Summary: The final exam called the particular judgment is in essence a look into our hearts for evidence of love.
Ascension Sunday 2014
I can see a swath of sinners settin' yonder
And they're actin' like a pack of fools
Gazin' into space lettin' their minds wander
'Stead of studyin' the good Lord's rules
You better pay attention, build your comprehension
There's gonna be a quiz at your ascension
Not to mention any threat of hell
But if you're smart you'll learn your lessons well!
Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics from the Broadway musical, Godspell, remind us that the ascension of Jesus into heaven was neither the first nor the last ascension. Before him there was the prophet Elijah; after him, His Blessed Mother, Mary, was taken up to the presence of God, where she reigns with her Son and intercedes for us, who aspire to ascend as they did. The difference is that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father by His own divine merit, His own power. We, weak and sinful, hope for our own resurrection and ascension by reason of the forgiveness of our sins and the infusion of sanctifying grace won by Jesus Christ’s passion and death. We are baptized into Christ and, I presume, receive Holy Communion frequently. But, in this season of final exams, we all need to remember that there is a quiz, a kind of oral test, that we must pass in our last moment, in our transition called mortal death. So today as I reflect on Christ’s glorious ascension, let’s also think about that final exam we call the particular judgement.
Before every exam, we ought to consider the nature of the course we are taking, the ultimate objective, and the mind and heart of the teacher. Our final exam is the exam of life. Life goes in one direction–toward the giver of life. When God fashioned our body and soul and spirit, beginning at conception, He had one objective in mind–to perfect us in the image of Jesus, so that we might be happy in the Trinity’s embrace for all eternity. The mind and heart of the teacher and examiner is the mind and heart of a Father. St. Peter Chrysologus says it beautifully in the Divine Office, as he quotes St. Paul writing “I appeal to you by the mercy of God. This appeal is made by Paul, or rather, it is made by God through Paul, because of God’s desire to be loved rather than feared, to be a father rather than a Lord. God appeals to us in his mercy to avoid having to punish us in his severity.”
Every father worth the name loves his children. Even more so does God love us. But God’s love is the love of one who knows the Truth for each of His children. No father would let his child play in the street, hazarding traffic. No father would let his child consume only sugary sweets, good though they might taste. Good fathers set rules, and follow them, and make their children follow them. God made us, and so He knows us better than we know ourselves. He loves us more than we love ourselves. So He warns us through the teaching of the Church and the living Word to worship Him alone, revere His name, keep Sundays for family and Mass, obey and revere our parents, refrain from injuring and murdering each other, reserve the use of the marriage act for our spouses, neither steal nor covet the property and persons of another, and revere the Truth. He gives us the two great commandments–love God and love our neighbor as ourselves–not because He is trying to catch us doing evil and beat us up, but so we remain true to our calling to be like Jesus and Mary. That, we all know deep inside, is the only way to be truly happy.
But there is much more. God has also given us the Holy Spirit, the greatest gift, the one the disciples were waiting for in the ten days after the Ascension of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit that makes us like Jesus. Being like Jesus means living in love. This special Jesus-love means living in sacrificial love. We must love until it hurts, and then love even more. What can that mean?
For all of us, it means that we must fulfill the great commandment–spreading the good news of Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him and His Church: “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.” That may involve some inconvenience. We may be afraid of what our friends or coworkers may say if we are overtly Christian in our dress or actions. You’ll know what to do that may provoke questions without stirring up hostility. I like to answer a “how are you?” with a simple “I’m grateful.” That can lead to a conversation about the reason for your gratitude. A true missionary spirit does not always preach on streetcorners. But it always preaches in our day-to-day actions.