A reflection on Ascension Thursday
First reading: Acts 1:1-11
In my earlier work, Theophilus, I dealt with everything Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day he gave his instructions to the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. He had shown himself alive to them after his Passion by many demonstrations: for forty days he had continued to appear to them and tell them about the kingdom of God. When he had been at table with them, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised. ‘It is’ he had said ‘what you have heard me speak about: John baptised with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’
Now having met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.’
As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when suddenly two men in white were standing near them and they said, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.’
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him. May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers. This you can tell from the strength of his power at work in Christ, when he used it to raise him from the dead and to make him sit at his right hand, in heaven, far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power, or Domination, or any other name that can be named not only in this age but also in the age to come. He has put all things under his feet and made him, as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation.
Gospel: Luke 24:46-53
Jesus said to his disciples: “You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this. And now I am sending down to you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.”
Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.
The disciples’ hope during the first Eastertide
As Catholics, we know of Easter as a reference to the rising of the sun from the East, a symbol of the Rising Christ, as a season representing newness and growth. During this time, we relive the 40 days with Jesus the Risen Christ, after seeing him betrayed, arrested, scourged, forced to carry his cross, crucified naked between two thieves and then resurrected. Three days of deep sorrow and resignation, followed by 40 days of immense joy and conversion were now coming to an end. But instead of fear and anxiety, we see the ditsciples feeling assured, as they “went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.”
The first time that Jesus leaves them, he is forcibly taken to be tortured and killed. But this time around, Jesus is not taken, but ascends to his rightful place at the right hand of his Father, with two promises: first, that he will send the Holy Spirit to give us power, and second, that he will come again in glory. We can only imagine the great hope that set fire to the hearts of the disciples!
Montfort and the Holy Spirit
As Catholics, we know what happens next because Sacred Scripture tells us about Pentecost. As a Sacramental people we are sealed with the Holy Spirit when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. We live with His presence in our hearts, just as St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort did. Our dear saint had a deep devotion to the Holy Spirit from an early age, evident in the virtues that he lived, that showed how much he cooperated with the gifts of the Spirit within him.
At this time every year, between Ascension and Pentecost, many Catholics pray the Novena to the Holy Spirit, hoping that we too may receive these gifts and bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Some of us know that the Novena was composed by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, but perhaps few of us realise the connection to Montfort.
While studying at the Jesuit College of St Thomas Becket in Rennes, Montfort joined a small prayer group of students, the Association of Friends, where he met Claude Poullart des Places in 1690.
At that relatively young age, both men knew they were called to the priesthood and were inspired to start their own religious communities. Claude Poullart wanted to call his community the Congregation of the Holy Spirit while Louis Marie wanted his to be called the Community of the Holy Spirit. Although they did not start a congregation together, they remained close life-long friends.
Claude Poullart des Places founded the Congregation of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in 1703. Montfort, appointed an Apostolic Missionary by Pope Clement XI, went on missions throughout France, promoting the renewal of baptismal promises through a consecration to Mary, who he addressed as Spouse of the Holy Spirit and honoured her in prayers such as the Little Crown of Mary and Praise to Mary. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Montfort also founded religious congregations that served the poor and the sick, as well as lay confraternities and associations to sustain the conversions from his missions, even after he left those towns. In Singapore and Sabah, the Montfortian Gabrielite Associates are consecrated to Mary and live and promote the spirituality of Montfort in their daily lives.
A Novena in the days leading to Pentecost
As we approach Pentecost, let us pray the Novena to the Holy Spirit for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, just as the disciples did. There are many different versions, but a simple prayer booklet is available at the link below for a convenient download.
May the Holy Spirit be with us, just as He was in St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort and Fr Claude Poullart des Places!
Brian Ooi, Montfortian Gabrielite Associates
Do you want to know Jesus, living in Mary? Is God calling you to a life consecrated to His Son, through his most Amiable Daughter? Come and see, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.montfortcentre.org/montfortian-associates-movement