This week we mark the Ascension of the Lord, when Jesus rose to heaven and left his disciples on earth. Ten days later, he sent the Holy Spirit upon them as they prayed in the Upper Room. Life changed in an instant for the disciples that day. And, because of them and the Spirit, the world also changed.
Imagine what the disciples went through for those ten days. They were told by Jesus, as he was about to ascend, “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father … in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:4-5).”
Waiting is hard. The disciples were left knowing that one important part in life was over and something new was beginning — but they had to wait for it. Not only were they probably impatient, they were probably scared. Jesus was gone. He was alive, but he was gone. Now it was just them. What were they supposed to do? What would happen to them?
This is a time of year when many of us can relate, at least a little, to how the disciples must have felt.
n For those who are graduating, school is over and something new — and totally unknown — is about to begin: college, a new job, moving away from home. It’s exciting and scary.
n For engaged couples getting married this summer, it’s much the same. Life is about to change: they’ll be a couple and begin a new family in God. It’s wonderful, but they can’t guess what lies ahead.
n For those being ordained, they are also about to be changed forever. Their lives will never be their own again, but turned over to God so that the Spirit can work through them.
n For the rest of us, we might not be facing such dramatic changes, but every day offers times when we would really, really like to act — but we know that the Lord would prefer we go and pray about it, waiting for the Holy Spirit to guide us.
What happens when we let the Spirit guide us?
In 2013, Pope Francis’ Pentecost homily addressed changes in life. “Newness,” he said, “always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, … This is also the case when it comes to God.”
The pope noted how hard it is to follow God. Oh, yes, we might for a while, “but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own.”
Many say our modern culture encourages us to be self-directed, narrow in focus and unwilling to trust or commit to anything. And yet, that is exactly what God asks; what Jesus asked of the disciples when he told them to wait.
“Trust me,” Jesus said as he left. “Believe in me and believe in the one who sent me.”
God has said this throughout salvation history: He asked Adam and Eve to trust him in the garden, he asked Abraham to trust him and leave home, he asked Moses to trust him and bring slaves out of Egypt, he asked Mary to trust him and become the Mother of God.
When he asked the disciples to wait for his promise, Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy. It’s not easy for us; it won’t be what we might expect; it might be scary — but it won’t be dull.
“The newness which God brings into our life,” Pope Francis said, “is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves today: Are we open to ‘God’s surprises’? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit?”
This time of year asks us the same questions: Can you wait? And are you ready to be surprised?