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Holy Spirit does not come to visit
us one day a year; he is always present

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we continue with our journey in this Easter season, we prepare now for the great feasts of our shared mission: the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, and the Solemnity of Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit into the hearts of the disciples.

The Ascension took place 40 days after the resurrection. In the final verses of St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus gives the instruction to go and baptize all nations, and then “was taken up to Heaven and is seated now at the right hand of God” (16:19). In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives the disciples a final gift of understanding the Scriptures, reminds them of the universal mission to preach and baptize, and promises again to send the Holy Spirit to them in Jerusalem, before being “carried up into Heaven” (24:51). And in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke tells us that, after forty days (1:3), Jesus commanded the disciples to “be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (1:8), and then was “lifted up” (1:9). St. Luke also describes in detail the coming of the Holy Spirit on the fiftieth day (2:1ff), which we therefore call “Pentecost.”

The Ascension of our Lord therefore means three things for us. First, it is the completion of all the acts of salvation. For some 19 centuries, since the call of Abraham, God had prepared and shepherded his people. He established for them the Passover and the Law, the Covenant and the priesthood, the Ark of the Word in the Temple, and the living Ark of the Word that was the Virgin Mary. In her, God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became Incarnate, joining to himself a complete human nature, body and soul, “like us in all things but sin,” and experiencing as a man the whole range of human existence. In dying on the cross, he destroyed the power of death over our human nature, and in rising from the dead, he restored all that had been lost to us in the fall of our first parents from the garden. He gave us the church, the seven holy sacraments, and many spiritual gifts and charisms to be lived out in the church throughout time. And finally, in ascending into heaven, he “goes to prepare a place” for us (Jn 14:2), so that, by our fidelity to all his commandments, and by our sacramental union with him in the church, he may fulfill his promise, “then I will take you to myself, so that you too may be where I am” (Jn 14:3).

Second, it is the promise of resurrection and salvation for our bodies, as well as our souls. Jesus is resurrected in the same body – the same, albeit perfected and glorified. He still bears in his flesh the wounds of his passion, as he shows to “doubting Thomas” (Jn 20:27ff). He eats food with the disciples, for example at Emmaus (Lk 24:30), and by the sea with Peter (Jn 21:13). He bears this same human body into heaven. The Ascension is not some mystical vision, then, but a concrete promise that we, too, will one day have our bodies rejoined to our souls, perfected and glorified with his forever in heaven. “Then we shall see Him face to face!” (1 Cor 13:12).

Third, it is the beginning of our mission in the church: to witness the truth of the Gospel to the whole world, to proclaim the Lord’s salvation, and to bring people to union with his Body, the church, through the waters of holy baptism, and all the Sacraments. We must embrace again our mission as faithful disciples! We must live in the Church, and not be too much of the world, for our true home is not here but in heaven. We must be quick to recognize and denounce evils, and even quicker to love all God’s precious children, without exception. We must strive with patience and dedication and great charity to help people understand the richness and goodness of faith in Jesus Christ.

As Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, there is hardly a soul that truly hates the church, but there are millions who hate what they think the church is and stands for. We must therefore evangelize with our joy and fidelity, especially among fallen-away Catholics! We must live like what we truly are, bound to the sacred body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, being poured out daily for the salvation of the souls of those around us.

To live in this way takes the life of God himself within us, the life that we receive from all the holy sacraments. This is why Ascension must lead to Pentecost. When we are baptized and confirmed, we receive personally the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit, to be such disciples. When we celebrate Pentecost, we are renewing our mission to follow Christ. But we have the Holy Spirit! He doesn’t come to visit us only one day a year, he is always present to us! He helps form our conscience, enlightens our mind, gives us the spirit of prayer, joins us to the church interiorly, and inspires us to good works every day!

I think of this often and especially when I administer the sacrament of confirmation to our young people. Please pray for all of those who received this sacrament this year. The Holy Spirit will always be with them!
Our mission as disciples is every day. As we look to these two great feasts, may the hardness of our hearts that keeps us from being such disciples be softened by new grace, so that we may truly become what Christ calls us to be.

Please pray for me, that I may lead you well as your bishop, just as I pray for all of you daily! May the joy of our Lord remain within your hearts!

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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