How can we experience Christ’s presence after His Ascension?

Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ


In the chapel of Asilo de Betania, a nursing home for elderly men, managed by Caritas Macau in Ilha Verde, there is a colorful painting by the Mexican artist Francisco Borboa. At the center of the painting, there is the Risen Christ, walking together with an elderly couple. Because of their old age, Christ is holding their arms to support them. Behind Jesus, there is a setting sun which represents the existential and spiritual context of many of the residents. But the setting sun is not the end of their road since it is behind them.

Christ is the rising sun who opens for them new horizons and a new future. The meaning is evident: Christ accompanies us in our life journey, especially in its last stretch when we are more vulnerable and in need of assistance.

This Sunday we celebrate the solemnity of Christ’s Ascension. The painting in Asilo de Betania enlightens the meaning of this mystery: “Left to its own natural powers, humanity does not have access to the Father’s house, to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open to us such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where He, our Head and our Source, has preceded us” (CCC 661). Especially during times of difficulties or when we experience weakness, we are in need of someone to open the way and to sustain us in the journey ahead.

“I am with you always, until the end of time,” Jesus proclaimed in the last verse of this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20). Those very reassuring words of Jesus are at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. In the first chapter of the same Gospel, Jesus is called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us” (Mt 1:23). Both the first and the last words of Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus emphasize Christ’s constant presence in all the seasons of our lives. Step by step, He accompanies us to our ultimate destination.

But how do we feel Christ’s presence among us? The Catechism explains: “ ‘Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,’ is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, ‘where two or three are gathered in my name,’ in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But ‘he is present … most especially in the Eucharistic species’” (CCC 1373).

The nuns serving in the Asilo de Betania, together with many other religious sisters of various congregations working in many other social institutions of our city, are taking seriously what the Catechism says, especially about the Eucharist, but they also pay special attention to the presence of the Risen Christ in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, those we might be tempted to neglect. Jesus explained elsewhere to his apostles that “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Whenever we serve the poor, the sick or an inmate, it is as if Jesus were that person.

But I would add another aspect. In the painting I mentioned before, the artist also painted two other nuns at the side of Jesus, one pushing a wheelchair and the second one joining two elderly persons who are following Jesus. That is the point: the elderly residents in the nursing home normally experience the presence of Christ through the caring presence of the nuns around them, their words, their actions, their prayer, which all point to Jesus. This is the way Jesus wanted to be present in the world after His Ascension. The same could be said about teachers, nurses, clerks, or cleaners. All professions are a form of service.

Before returning to the Father, Christ powerfully entrusted to the Church, His Body, the mission of bringing Christ to others. The great commission highlights this reality: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:18-20). Christ invites us, His disciples, to continue His mission and His presence in the world, as He did when He was among us. The doubts in the hearts of the disciples, together with many other weaknesses and shortcomings, did not prevent Christ from entrusting us with this mission.

Sometimes we might feel that Christ’s commission is a great responsibility, even a burden beyond our limited capabilities. In reality, it is a grace and an honor that make our lives, work, and relationships more meaningful and already connected to eternity.