Do any of you remember the first time you tried to ride a bike, or maybe the first time you went swimming? We likely don’t remember what we were doing, and we needed some help. I don’t have much memory of my bike lessons as a kid but I know I was successful with them because I would ride my bike around the neighborhood all of the time and did a pretty good job at it. However, I didn’t start being able to ride my bike right away. I had to learn. I started with training wheels, then one day we decided to take them off, and I had to trust my skills. I don’t remember the first time I rode without training wheels, but I’m sure my parents were right there behind me just in case I stumbled and almost fell off. In a way, though I had to trust myself and my parent’s and go forward without the assistance of the training wheels.
This is my first mass back since I was ordained just about a week ago. I’m celebrating my one-week (one day) birthday as a priest while the analogy might not be perfect in a way, seminary and my time preparing for the priesthood first as a seminarian and then as a Deacon were kind of like riding with training wheels.
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he was taken away from their sight and ascended into heaven. Up to this point in their ministry, Jesus was training the apostles to go out and evangelize the world. In a way they shadowed the Lord, they learned from him, they were taught by him. I would almost say that the three years the apostles were with the Lord were like their years in seminary. However, as you know, Jesus wouldn’t stay with them forever. Eventually, they would have to go out on their own.
Jesus’ ascension into heaven is that last preparation and command for them to do what they were called to. In St. Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus say “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.” This is the mission they are called to and what they will live out the rest of their lives. Jesus would be taken from their sight, ascending into heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the father.
However, Jesus didn’t leave them alone. He tells them not to leave Jerusalem and wait until they receive the Holy Spirit. As we will see a week from now this will happen, and the spirit will descend upon the disciples, and from there out they would preach the Gospel and they would go out to make disciples of all nations.
It may seem like the apostles are like we were after we started riding our bikes or swimming or whatever else. We are left on our own once we take those training wheels off, and go out riding on our own. If we fall, like I did a couple of times, mom and dad may not be there to catch you. However, Jesus didn’t leave his apostles without help and a guide. He sent them the Holy Spirit who has been guiding and helping the Church since he came down on Pentecost.
Now, as a priest, this is what I place my trust in and seek in my own life. I know the spirit is there for me in my life and he will be there to help me, especially when I am weak and struggling. Especially too when I’m celebrating the sacraments, the mass, hearing confession and bringing salvation to the world!
However, God doesn’t only give us the spirit for his apostles, bishops, and priests. He too gives the Spirit to all of us, and the Spirit is there to help us when we need him. Whatever you might be struggling with in your life, don’t be afraid to ask God to send you his grace to help you out. Maybe we are struggling with a relationship in our lives with a family member or a friend. Ask the Spirit to come and help you with that relationship. Maybe there is a sin we seem always to have to confess. Ask the Spirit to free you from that attachment to sin.
When we are learning something new in our lives, we usually have someone there to assist us and guide us along the way. However, we can’t have those guides forever. Eventually, we need to go out on our own. Jesus knew he was going to leave his apostles to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, and he ascends back to heaven. However, their mission wasn’t without the help of the Holy Spirit. As we continue to follow the Lord in our own lives may we trust in the Holy Spirit knowing he will give us the grace we need to grow in holiness and to grow closer to our Lord in our own lives.