(Celebrated in some dioceses on Sunday, May 24)
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” the disciples in the first reading ask, seeking some certainty in their lives. In this time of pandemic, their plea has new meaning for me, with uncertainty all around us. The first part of Jesus’ answer seems rather unsatisfying, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.”
But our God is a God of surprises: times like this can be surprisingly fruitful. In 1623, on the feast of the Ascension, Louise de Marillac was suffering from great uncertainty about several aspects of her life. She felt “very disturbed because of the doubt … All these things caused me incredible anguish, which lasted from Ascension to Pentecost.”
During this time of uncertainty and interior disturbance, Louise stayed close to God, with life-changing results. “On the feast of Pentecost, during holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was instantly freed of all doubt.” Louise received clarity about her mission that guided her the rest of her life. But even though her doubts were erased, the timing was still a mystery.
The fulfillment of that revelation took years to play out: she wouldn’t meet Vincent de Paul for another year, and the founding of the Daughters of Charity was a decade away. The intervening years were a time of preparation for Louise. Likewise, our return to a “new normal” will be slower than we wish. But that gives us time to prepare: what life will we craft for ourselves, our community, and our world?
I thought of Louise as I considered the second part of Jesus’ answer. He focused the disciples on something more important than their worries: their mission in the here and now. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” A charge worthy of Mission Impossible!
Fortunately, the Gospel reminds us that mission doesn’t depend on us, but on God, who gave Jesus “all power in heaven and on earth.” In turn, Jesus assures us that he accompanies us on mission: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” As we ponder the world we want to create in response to COVID-19, let us remember Peter’s exhortation in the second reading that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Amen!
– Lisa A. Shay
Lisa, an Associate of the Sisters of Charity of New York, is the Associate Dean for Educational Innovation at the Albert Nerken School of Engineering at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. A retired U.S. Army Colonel, Lisa formerly served as Electrical Engineering Program Director at West Point. She and her husband Jeffrey have six wonderful children, aged 11 to 26.
Image: Giotto’s Ascension, Scrovegni Chapel, ca. 1300