Breath of the Spirit: Everyday Mysticism and Everyone a Mystic
A modern spiritual derivative of pantheism (God = creation) is panentheism: God is in every created thing and yet still beyond creation. This latter notion fits well into the manifestation of the Cosmic Christ to which today’s reading from Ephesians refers. Today’s reflection asks us to allow the reality of a Cosmic Christ to shape our lives. If Love is truly “all in all” (I Corinthians 15:28), what are the implications for our relationship with each part of the creation that makes love so very flesh?
Sunday, May 29, 2022: The Feast of the Ascension
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Everyday Mysticism and Everyone a Mystic
A reflection by Jon Schum
We are accustomed to hearing a narrative of Jesus’s Ascension twice on this day, but in Cycle C both passages are from the same evangelist. Scholars generally agree that the third gospel along with the Acts of the Apostles are a single literary undertaking: Luke-Acts. In a total of 52 chapters (occupying one-quarter of the New Testament), it is a continuous narrative that begins with the infancy stories of Jesus, carries us through Jesus’s public ministry, and leads to the apostolic preaching and witness among the early faith communities. It’s noted that the Acts account is a bit fuller and more detailed than the gospel account, but both give us a graphic depiction of the heavenward ascension of Jesus, something missing from the other two synoptic gospels.
The author of Luke-Acts considered the Ascension as the link between the gospel and Acts, or more precisely, between the ministry of Jesus and the entrusting of that mission to the early community of believers. The chronology of the Ascension, as commemorated in the liturgy of the church, is taken from the first reading. Jesus had been appearing to the apostles and speaking of the reign of God for forty days, bookending Jesus’ forty days in the desert preceding the inauguration of his ministry.
The community we encounter in today’s first and third readings is a community in the process of formation. These early believers are in the “in-between” time, having experienced the ascension of Jesus yet awaiting the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. What’s missing in the Acts passage is a fuller picture of what that community looked like. The addition of the next three verses (Act 1:12-14) would inform us that this was a gathering of the disciples united in prayer with “some women and Mary the mother of Jesus...” More gender-inclusive contemporary editions of the canonical lectionary, such as the Comprehensive Catholic Lectionary, strive to include significant passages about the role of women in the Scriptures, which, by the way, is itself a notable theme in the Lucan writings.
Everything we hear in today’s readings is a prelude to Pentecost, as we hear Jesus promising that his followers would be “clothed with power from on high.” Recall the Annunciation (Luke 1.35) where the angel promises that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you (Mary) and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The gospel of Luke began in the Temple with Zechariah preparing to greet and bless the people, and it concludes in the Temple. The angel had appeared to Zechariah in the holy sanctuary, leaving him speechless before the people (Lk 1:5-25). Following the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and “with great joy… were continually in the Temple, praising God” (Lk 24:53), with full voices, it can be presumed.
The ascension is less a withdrawal or absence of Jesus than the revelation of Christ in a more powerful and expansive manifestation. The details of the Ascension represent to us the heavenly exaltation of the Christ, reaffirming the resurrection and acclaiming the “fullness of the One who fills all things in every way” (Ephesians 1:23).
The Letter to the Ephesians was not likely written by Paul, but perhaps by one or more recipients of his preaching; this does not diminish the impact of the message, for they seem to have known Paul and his message quite well and at times assume his persona in the text of the letter.
Paul is consumed by the mystery of God, who “with all wisdom and insight…has made known to us the mystery of God’s own will, in accord with God’s favor set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in (Christ), in heaven and on earth” (1:8-10). This mystery has cosmic import as Paul’s image of the exalted Christ spans all eternity. The Eternal Word, incarnate in Christ, is seated high in the heavens far above every earthly and spiritual power, now, and in every age, with an all-embracing fullness that extends throughout the universe. These mysteries are timeless in their cosmic expanse. No earthly power, no political power, no churchly power can claim preeminence.
If you have time, read all of chapter one, along with chapter 3:1-13. Then read Colossians 1:15-20: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation….” Paul did not know Jesus. He encountered the Christ, though, on the road to Damascus. The synoptic gospels record the life and teaching of the historical Jesus. But Paul’s letters and the gospel of John, more mystical and transcendent, are focused on the Christ. On only five occasions in the body of Pauline writings is there independent mention of “Jesus.” Yet Paul employs the expression “in Christ” 164 times. Today’s text refers to the strength of God’s power at work “in Christ”. We are “in Christ” and Christ in us.
Richard Rohr, OFM, writes and lectures extensively on the Universal Christ, the Christ who exists from all eternity, empowering us to see the sacred in everything, everywhere, and in everyone. There is no binary sacred-secular. The mystic immerses the self in the mystery of the God who manifests the God-self in everything visible that our eyes have ever seen, and our ears ever heard. *
This has huge implications for how we see the universe, our home the Earth, our neighbor, the stranger, and ourselves. We are all exalted, everyone and every creature who inhabits the planet, every rock and flower, every star and the far reaches of the universe…all is exalted in Christ. St. Francis understood this as he sang to Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Air, and Sister Water.
In one very long sentence, the author of Ephesians prays that God may “give (us) a spirit of wisdom and revelation and a rich knowledge of the Creator. May God enlighten the “eyes of (our) hearts” so that (we) can see the hope which this call holds for (us)…and how infinitely great is the power exercised for (us) who believe.” Note that these wonderous gifts have already been bestowed! It is left to us to embrace them. When we see with the eyes of our heart, we encounter the mystic that is in all of us.
*You may watch Fr. Rohr on “The Universal Christ” (09/16/18) on YouTube:
Jon Schum and his husband Ron Lacro are longtime Dignity Boston members. Jon has served on its board and liturgy committee and is one of the chapter's ordained presiders. For many years he supervised and provided arts-based therapeutic programming for an elder services agency in Boston. He is currently a co-facilitator of the Aging with Dignity caucus.