A way to understand the Ascension

Published May 16, 2021, 12:40 AM

by Fr. Rolando V. De La Rosa, OP


Fr. Rolando V. dela Rosa, O.P.

The solemn feast of the Ascension reminds me of Luli and Oodaaq. Luli is short for “lulubog-lilitaw,” the name of an island in Palawan that one can see during low tide but is completely invisible during high tide. When I visited Luli several years ago, it was low tide, so from afar, I saw several tourists who seemed to be walking on water. But when I reached the island, I realized they were walking on a sandbar.

Oodaaq is almost like Luli.  In 1978, a Danish mapping team in Greenland announced they had discovered the northernmost island on earth. It was submerged in thin ice with its tip barely visible. The team gave the island the Eskimo name “Oodaaq.” Today, it is considered a “ghost Island.” Explorers know it exists, but no one sees it.

Luli and Oodaaq teach us one precious insight: Not everything that is present can be seen by our eyes. The visibility of these islands depends on the sea level, which is never constant. But regardless of the tides, and whether Luli and Oodaaq are entirely, partially, or not at all visible, their presence is real.

Luli and Oodaaq challenge us to reexamine our almost dogmatic adherence to the dictum: “To see is to believe.”  As the explorers of Oodaaq and the tourists of Luli realized, they had to believe first in the presence of these islands before they saw them with their eyes. Faith gives us the ability to discern the presence of things that we cannot see.

The story of the Ascension tells us that “Jesus bids farewell to the apostles and is taken up to heaven” (Mark 16:19). In other words, after the Ascension, Jesus ceases to be visible. But as the story continues: “The apostles went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed their preaching with accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20).

Although Jesus seems to have left them for good, they are filled with excitement and enthusiasm to preach about Jesus.  Why? Because the apostles’ faith assures them that  even if they can no longer see Him,  He remains present.

The apostles believe that Jesus has not abandoned them by ascending to heaven. Rather, He assumes a new kind of presence that transcends the spatial and temporal limitations inherent in His bodily existence. His presence is no longer bound to His visibility. So even if He no longer walks, talks, and eats with the apostles, He will always be IN them, BETWEEN them, AMONG them. Hence, their conviction that nothing will separate them from Him, a conviction that is fortified by His words: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).

The Ascension invites us to imitate Jesus — to transcend our human limitations so we can achieve great things for Him. He empowers us to pass the good news from generation to generation by preaching and by the witness of our lives. This process continues despite human frailty because it is Jesus who initiates and completes it: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations ” (Matthew 28:18-19).

People often say: “Bahala na ang nasa itaas.”  Perhaps we should stop referring to God as “ang nasa itaas,” as though, with His Ascension, Jesus has decided to permanently reside in outer space. In truth, He is not “up there.” He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He is in the depth of our being. Or, more precisely, He is the God who gives depth to our often superficial and shallow existence.