“If Jesus was around today…”
We hear people say that sort of thing said all the time, don’t we?
If Jesus was alive today… If we lived back in Jesus’ time… If Jesus was here with us right now…
To be perfectly honest, I really hate it when I hear that sort of thing.
Why such strong words?
Well because when people use phrases like that — even if they don’t really mean to — they are at least suggesting that Jesus IS NOT currently active and present in the world and in His Church today. Right here, right now.
What’s even worse is the fact that this phrase — “If Jesus was around today” — is almost always used when people want to put words into Jesus’ mouth, or when they want to justify their own behavior or beliefs.
“If Jesus was around today, he would be personally against abortion, but would defend a woman’s right to choose.”
“If Jesus was around today, he wouldn’t care which Christian church you attended, or what religion you practiced, or which God you believed in. They’re all basically the same anyways, right?”
“If Jesus was around today, he would bless same-sex unions. He would fully support same sex marriage!”
“If Jesus was around today, he’d understand why I had to make that choice that the Church disagrees with — and he would of course completely agree with me!”
The fact is — We can make Jesus think and say all sorts of convenient things — if he’s not around anymore to speak for himself!
Now to be fair — it’s sort of understandable why people would speak about Jesus as if he was absent.
As if he was just another important figure whose time is now past, who is long gone… Just another interesting footnote in human history.
Because let’s face it — he’s not obviously visible anymore, is he? As our reading from the Acts of the Apostles put it today, “a cloud took him from their sight.”
Jesus — walking, talking, eating, and breathing among us in his Glorified Body — has been taken from our sight. He is no longer visible and present to us in the same way.
We believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead on Easter Sunday — very good!
But the question now becomes: Where is that Body right now? What happened? What changed?
How can we seriously say that Jesus is still active, that he’s “still around today” — when we can’t literally see his wounds? Can’t physically reach out and touch his cloak?
This weekend, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord — and unless we are very careful, we might get the mistaken notion that this is the Feast of Jesus’ absence. That this is the celebration of Jesus leaving us — leaving the Church — to fend for ourselves! To continue on with only a distant memory of Jesus’ presence.
But that couldn’t be further from the Truth!
In the Liturgy of the Hours for today, the Church offers us a reading from St. Augustine, who says point blank that Christ “did not leave Heaven when he came down to us, nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven.”
That’s really important! Jesus did not withdraw from us, did not leave us at the Ascension.
He’s still around. But in a brand new way!
Ok… So how is he still around today?
Pope St. Leo the Great famously put it this way: “Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments.”
His visible presence has passed into the sacraments.
This is fundamentally important if we are going to hold fast to faith — if we are going to stay Catholic! Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior — because of His Ascension — has passed into the sacramental life of the Church.
That is the primary way Christ is still accessible, visible, and tangible today.
Jean Courbon, who wrote the Fourth Section of the Catechism — the section devoted to Prayer — said this:
“It is highly regrettable that the majority of the faithful pay so little heed to the Ascension of the Lord.” So what he’s saying is: We tend to focus in on the Cross, and the Resurrection, and maybe even Pentecost — but the Ascension is sometimes forgotten. Overlooked! But it’s no less a part of our salvation!
“The lack of appreciation of [the Ascension]” he continues “is closely connected with the lack of appreciation of the mystery of the liturgy.”
What does he mean by this? What does the Ascension, which took place 40 days after the Resurrection, have to do with the liturgy? Have to do with what we are doing RIGHT NOW.
Well — it’s exactly what Pope St. Leo the Great was getting at: By His Ascension, Christ’s visible presence, his ACTION, his LOVE, his MERCY has passed into… has transferred into the Sacramental Liturgy, the Tangible, Visible Symbols of the Church’s worship!
The Second Vatican Council, in its declaration on the Sacred Liturgy, says very clearly that “Christ is always… ALWAYS… present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations.”
- So when Fr Anthony or Fr Kevin or ANY priest ANYWHERE in the world offers the Holy Mass, it is Christ Himself offering up the Once-for-all Sacrifice of Calvary.
- When we receive the consecrated Host or the Chalice, it is Christ’s Real Presence that we receive.
- When we celebrate the Sacraments, it is Jesus who baptizes, it is Jesus who walks into that hospital room and anoints the sick person, it is Jesus who hears your confession and forgives you, it is Jesus who confirms that teenager.
- In the proclamation of Holy Scripture, what we just heard a couple of seconds ago, it is Jesus speaking to us, here and now — His Living Voice! He has something to say to you RIGHT NOW!!!
- And when the Church gathers, when we come together to pray and (FINALLY) sing together — it’s Jesus’ Body that is worshipping God. He is our Head, we are His Members. He is the Vine, we are the branches.
Simply put: The body of Christ — the Whole Body of Christ — Risen and Ascended — comes to us in the liturgy!
And it is not a dead body. It is not mere memory or a historical footnote — it is a living and active Body. When we come forward to receive Holy Communion, we approach the living breathing, Truly Resurrected Body and Blood of Christ. We open our hands and mouths not to lifeless circles of bread. We meet a Real Person: The Person of Jesus.
Everything has been put under his feet, as our reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians said — Jesus is currently and actively far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion.
That requires faith. That requires an openness to the fact that INVISIBLE grace can be given to us by VISIBLE signs and symbols.
Jesus said it himself in our Gospel today: “These signs will accompany those who believe.”
The signs he speaks of are not magical powers he gives before leaving us to figure everything out on our own for the next 2,000 years. No, the Lord continued his work through them, and confirmed their preaching by these signs — It’s HIS work! It’s HIS Church! From his throne in Heaven, He is still Lord and Master.
From all of this, it now becomes obvious:
We can’t speak about Jesus in the past tense.
We ought not put words in his mouth, presuming that He can’t or won’t speak for himself. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Jesus is still living.
He is still God. He’s still speaking today — in the Church and in the Sacraments.
That’s what we mean when we say that Jesus ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father… interceding for us, sinners.
Now you might be saying at this point: “All that fancy theology is nice, Father — but what does it mean for me right now in ‘real life?’
It’s simple: Jesus wants to be Lord of your life.
He wants everything. Always. No matter what.
He wants to be your friend, right now. He desires to be your most intimate companion along the everyday walk of life. In all your mess. In all our drudgery. The normal stuff. Like when the baby vomits on you. When your family drives you nuts. When friends let you down. When the world gets crazier and crazier and seems to be falling apart. When politicians create laws and policies that make absolutely zero sense. When faith is hard. When scandals hit. When you’ve sinned big-time. When coming to church is the last thing you’re interested in doing. When giving up would be a whole lot easier.
Those are the moments when Christ, Risen and Ascended into glory — is closest to you. Even if you don’t feel his Presence. Even if all you see is Nothing.
He’s still there. He’s still around!
So don’t fall into the trap of thinking in the past tense — “Back in Jesus’ day. When Jesus was healing people. When Jesus was performing miracles.”
He still absolutely is.
So spend time with Him. Pray to Him. Visit Him here in the Tabernacle and in the Monstrance.
Don’t lose faith. Our belief in the Ascension of Our Lord makes it abundantly clear:
This IS STILL Jesus’ day. EVERYTHING is His.
Jesus is still very much around.