"Domine, si in tempore hoc restitues regnum Israel?"
"Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?"
Acts I: vi
"...apparuit illis Iesus: et exprobravit incredulitatem eorum, et duritiam cordis: quia iis qui viderant eum resurrexisse, non crediderunt."
"...and He appeared to them and He upbraided them for their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them who had seen Him after He was risen again."
St. Mark XVI: xiv
They had spent years with Him. Lived with Him. Watched Him work miracles. Watched Him raise people from the dead. Watched Him die. Watched Him come back from the dead. Watched Him walk through walls in His resurrected body. And then you read the question, "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?" It's comedic, really. Part of me wants to shout, "Are you kidding? Do you people still not get it?" The other part of me just wants desperately to see the look on Our Lord's face. It was, as usual I'm sure, expressive of infinite patience for our stupidity and blindness. Indeed, in the corresponding Gospel text for today's Feast of the Ascension, Our Lord actually "upbraids" the Apostles for their hardness of heart. He who had done all these things in front of them knew they would be hard-hearted and they were there while He walked the earth! How much "harder" can hearts be now, so far removed from Our Lord's loving and patient gaze?
And yet, as always, the Mass delivers the right message on the right day. One can hardly believe that it has been forty days since the joy of Easter Sunday - and that forty days before that we had started the penance of Lent. It all seems so far away now, doesn't it? For us enfleshed beings who have not yet our resurrected bodies the cares of the world and the march of time keep us moving forward in the stream of our lives. And yet today the Church stops us to direct our gaze in wonder as Our Lord rises to His throne and in a way "enthrones" humanity in Heaven. He goes to prepare a place for us! Surely we can understand why the angels had to shake the Apostles from their stupor and ask, "Men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to Heaven?"
If today we pause, forgetful already that forty days have passed since He conquered death for us, let us pause in the light of the brilliance of His Glory. Let us pause in awe of His Majesty. Let us, like the Apostles, be stupefied, if only for a moment, by the completed miracle of our forever-divinized humanity. Then, let us get on with our work: building the Kingdom of God in our own lives and in those around us. And leave the questions like, "Wilt thou restore the Kingdom to Israel?" (read: "When will the crisis in the Church end?") for another time. We will have our Kingdom, we will see an end to the crisis, when we have merited it. And nothing of the past 56 years indicates we are anywhere even close to that merit, if we have even begun.
So let us start today (again), within ourselves. After we've spent some time gazing at Our Ascended Lord.
This piece was reprinted in the July 2014 issue of The Four Marks.