Why the ascension? » Manila Bulletin News

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By Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.

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

T he solemn feast of the Ascension reminds me of Luli  and Oodaaq. Luli is short for “Lulubog-Lilitaw,” the name of a famous island in Palawan that is visible during low tide but completely submerged during high tide. From afar, the only house on the island seems floating on the sea, and people appear to be walking on water. But when you’re on the island during low tide, you realize that the house actually stands on stilts and people are 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 a small island 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: Presence is not the same as visibility. The visibility of these islands depends on the sea level, which is never constant. Thus, more (or less) of these islands are seen each day. 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 are not visible.

During the Ascension, Jesus bids farewell to the apostles and is “lifted up” or “taken up to heaven and a cloud takes Him from their sight.” In other words, after the Ascension, Jesus ceases to be visible. But the apostles rejoice at this because their faith assures them that even if they can no longer see Him, He remains present.

With his Ascension, Jesus 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. This explains the joy that His apostles feel. They believe that even if Jesus no longer walks, talks, and eats with them, He will always be IN them, BETWEEN them, AMONG them. Henceforth, nothing separates them from Him, and this conviction is fortified by His words: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of time.”

Ascension puts into motion an interpersonal chain of events. The ascending Jesus challenges us 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 through proclamation and 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 earth has been given to me. God therefore and make disciples of all nations . . .”

People often say: “Bahala na angnasa itaas.” Perhaps we should stop referring to God as “ang nasa itaas,” as though, with His ascension, He has decided to permanently reside in outer space. God 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.

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