Ascension Sunday

From Seeing to Recognizing: A Spirituality of Communion
By Fr. Pete Iorio

Out of sight, out of mind is a saying.  If we do not see something, we won’t think about it. Jesus goes out of sight, but does he go out of mind, as the saying goes? No, He certainly goes out of sight as we read on this feast of the Ascension, but his departure is such that he now penetrates hearts and minds.

Ascension took place 40 days after the resurrection. Forty is a number symbolizing completion. Let’s review and bring together this Easter Mystery.

Our Easter journey is going from “seeing” to “recognizing.” Seeing things with our eyes is not recognizing things. Recognizing things is having insight to see them in their deepest meaning. That is what it means to be a person of faith.

On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene sees someone whom she sees as the gardener. When her name is spoken tenderly, she moves from seeing a gardener to recognizing Christ.

Another resurrection story has two disciples walking to the village of Emmaus with a stranger. That is what they see, a man they did not know, a stranger. It is in the breaking of the bread that their eyes are opened, and they realize they had recognized him, Jesus who had been crucified.

Doubting Thomas refuses to believe his brother disciples who told him they had seen the Lord. So when he appears again to the disciples and Thomas is with them, Jesus invites him to the scariest level of recognition. He invites Thomas to put his hands in his wounds. Touch them. In essence, he tells him, “when you get in contact with my suffering and the suffering of others, then you will move from seeing to recognizing.” And Thomas says with great faith: “my Lord and my God.” Many people echo Thomas’s words during the consecration at Mass…seeing bread and wine, but recognizing Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us try to understand this mystery. Jesus died on the cross and Christ arose from the dead. I am making a distinction: Jesus and Christ.  Christ is present in the gardener, in the stranger you meet on the street and in the person suffering in the hospital. This is the point of being able to move from seeing to recognizing. This spiritual path and teaching comes to us in so many ways throughout the Scripture. Love your neighbor as yourself. What you do to the least of these, you do to me, as Jesus said in Mattthew chapter 25 in the final judgment.

So as I look out and see each of you, I see you as individual people that I know. When I move to recognition, I know that you are the body of Christ and I treat you and act as I would want to act if Jesus himself were standing right in front of me.

This is the same act of faith that Mary Magdalene had, that Thomas had, and that the disciples on the road to Emmaus had. We, like them are to move from seeing a gardener, a stranger, and a wounded person as Christ.

Believe it or not, this teaching was included in an apostolic letter written by Pope John Paul II at the end of the Great Jubilee Year of 2000. The letter is called Novo Milennio Inuente: At the beginning of the new millennium. If you think that I am off the mark or crazy or heretical and what I have just said about moving from seeing to recognizing, I quote directly from Saint John Paul the Great: we need to promote a spirituality of communion, making it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed, wherever ministers of the altar, consecrated persons, and pastoral workers are trained, wherever families and communities are being built up. A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us. A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as “those who are a part of me”. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship. A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a “gift for me”. A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to “make room” for our brothers and sisters, bearing “each other’s burdens” (Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy. Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose.

Practically, it means the kid in school who everybody thinks is weird and gets picked on, is part of me. I share in suffering with him.

The neighbor who reconciled with an adult child is ecstatic and I share her joy.

The poor runaway teenager who gets pregnant is part of me, and in the Body of Christ. The college athlete who got injured, had surgery and eventually addicted to opioids is part of me and a gift to me. The migrant at the border who is trying to escape poverty and violence is part of me.

How do I make room for these brothers and sisters and help them bear their burdens? God has given most of us human eyes to see. Through the gift of faith, he gives us the insight to recognize Him in this Christ soaked world.  In this divided world and country and Church, there is hope: to live the spirituality of communion. dpriority21

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