Ascension Thursday: Ready, Set, Go!

According to the liturgical calendar, Easter is not a feast that the church celebrates only one day of the year.  The seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost Sundays are called Eastertide, when the church reflects scripturally on the mystery of the Resurrection. 

Bondings 2.0 has created the “Out of the Tomb” series to present reflections on the liturgical readings for these Sundays and Ascension Thursday for our LGBTQ and Ally readership. You can view the readings for today, Ascension Thursday, by clicking here.

I have to begin with a confession:  the feast of the Ascension does not speak naturally to me.  Only the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary feels more awkward.  Raised by a Jesuit-trained father who adopted Vatican II Catholicism a few years before the Council, and a mother who converted from agnostic common-sense Presbyterianism, I grew up believing that creation took millions or billions of years, truly dead people did not rise physically, and certainly there was no giant vacuum that sucked people bodily into heaven. The only reason that I didn’t question the virgin birth until adulthood is probably that my parents didn’t discuss sex with children!  So the Ascension always felt like an awkward narrative ploy to get the risen Jesus back to heaven so that he could return in Act III, turning the stage over to the Holy Spirit in the meantime.

As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate the psychological experience of the Ascension:  when the mentor and guide in whom I have utter confidence issues the last instruction and disappears, and I don’t know if I’ll have the insight and skill and inspiration to fulfill the task.  My dad, jogging alongside my bike, letting go of the handle at the back of the banana seat with a reassuring “Just keep peddling!”  The nurse, wheeling me to the hospital exit door with my first newborn.  All my graduate school professors, when I stood up alone in front of my first class.  At all these and many other moments I’ve felt like protesting “Wait!  I’m not ready!” At some of them, I’ve actually said it!

The disciples must have felt the same way. Yes, they had their marching orders:

“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” (Matthew 28:19).

But when Jesus departs the earth, he leaves them “standing there looking at the sky” (Acts 1:11), wondering how they’re going to manage this without their fearless leader.

And they’re not wrong.  When our guides leave us to our own devices, the road ahead always contains not just rocks, but boulders, and pits big enough to swallow us.  When Dad let go of the bike seat I eventually did skin my knees.  I’ve wished for years that I could have a complete do-over with parenting. There have been times when I’ve fizzled and outright bombed in the classroom.  We know the disciples messed up too, big time, arguing over which poor people deserved to receive food and whether Gentiles could join the band of followers.

But here’s the thing:  by God’s grace, our absent mentors’ voices become part of us, and we also succeed.  I love my Specialized Sirrus bike beyond reason.  My “kids” are three very different, engaged, interesting, fiercely caring adults. I work with amazing students who seem to have learned something with me; I certainly learn from them.  And in the end, the disciples created communities around the Word and the breaking of bread.  If we truly just keep doing what we know in the spirit in which we were taught, the Spirit will continue to act—whether or not one of those pyromaniac technicolor Pentecost moments comes along to confirm it.

The space between Ascension abandonment and Pentecost confidence is uncomfortable. Anthropologists call the ritual gap between one state of being and another a liminal state.  It’s a place where the normal rules don’t apply and aren’t even useful.  Because most of us queer Catholics don’t always feel fully held anywhere, our oases—mentors, friends, ministry groups, and even jobs in Catholic institutions—are especially precious.  Losing one, like losing Jesus, can be devastating.  How can we possibly navigate afterward without our guide, our outrigger, our community, our vocation? Much like the disciples, we feel abandoned and even incapacitated in this liminal moment.

Right now, I’m preparing to move to another city. So, I’m leaving the small LGBTQ Catholic group who welcomed me when I came out (when the group was just LG), and the larger parish that eventually embraced all of us.  It feels like taking off the training wheels and riding on my own.  How can I possibly be a queer person, and a queer Catholic, in a new space, without my companions in the faith?

And yet.  Jesus had given the disciples a commission, backed up by “all power in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).  As my most precious queer mentor likes to say, with a grin at the double negative, “That ain’t nothin’!” Jesus was still with his followers, in their hearts and minds and bones.  When the familiar support was gone, and the ground felt unfamiliar, they lived forward in faith, praying, trusting in what they knew, skinning their knees occasionally but eventually riding straighter and farther than anyone could reasonably have imagined.  Ready, set, go!

Cristina Traina, Northwestern University, May 21, 2020

3 replies
  1. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    Thank you for this reflection Cristie. As usual, your reflection is pertinent and poignant. I’m glad to have met you in that early LGBTQ outreach group you mention in your article. I pray for you all the best in your new endeavor. I know great love and promise follow you.

    Reply
  2. David
    David says:

    thanks, Cristina! What a wonderful reflection on the meaning of the Ascension! I related and was quite moved. “Ready, set, Go!”

    Reply

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  1. […] going to cheat again: I’ve got a lot of other things going on today, but this Ascension reflection from Cristina Traina was amazing. Go read […]

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