Ascension Sunday and WCD2015

The title of this post is a bit naughty. How many of you instantly recognized that WCD2015 stands for World Communications Day 2015? Probably only my Catholic readers, and not even all of them, I suspect. It seems that the more we speak or write about communications, the less good we are at actually conveying anything. We lapse into acronyms or jargon which keeps the outsider firmly outside (unless one appeals on Twitter for someone to explain the trending hashtag of the day). Yet today’s great solemnity of the Ascension is what we might call perfect communication. The Risen Christ ascends to his Father, taking with him our grubby humanity, so that God and humanity are for ever one; and because he has returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the one who can articulate the prayer we could never put into words, can come upon us, overshadow us and make us new.

This is a day for silence, wonder and awe, for allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us and quietening anything that might hinder our hearing what he has to say. If we need to focus our prayer, then surely we should pray not only for media professionals but also for ourselves, that we may be good communicators, communicating good — which is ultimately to allow God to communicate himself through us.


Ascension Sunday 2014

The Ascension of Christ

I would hazard a guess that most of us, most of the time, live with Christ’s apparent absence rather than the sense of his presence. The Ascension is therefore very much our kind of feast: Christ is taken from us into a mysterious realm we have not yet experienced, but —and it is an important but — we have his assurance that he is with us until the end of time. His mode of being with us is different. That means, of course, that our mode of being with him must be different, too. I think we often forget that, and feel a sense of failure that our faith is so lacklustre, coming and going rather than remaining steadfast through thick and thin. We want to be angels before we have learned how to be fully human!

If living by faith means anything at all, I think it means going on, as best we can, without the ‘sensible helps’ of a comforting presence we can summon up at will. It means persevering, without knowing that we have all the answers. In short, it means placing our trust in this shadowy, mysterious Presence we acknowledge as our Lord and God, certain only of his love, not of the way in which his love will be poured out upon us. The Ascension is an opportunity to reaffirm our trust and await the coming of the Holy Spirit, who will be tongued with purifying and strengthening fire. We may gaze blankly into heaven at times, but we can be sure that the merciful eye of the Lord is always on us. Let us give thanks for that.


White Space

Monday morning, and I am thinking about white space. What does it mean to you? To me it means, first of all, the space on the page which sets off text, gives words shape and impact and allows meaning to flow from the jumble of letters and words. It is a necessary adjunct to thoughtful composition and close reading. White space is what makes poetry poetic and architecture architectural; it is the silence between musical notes; the inner form of sculpture; the hidden essence of the painted image; the heart enthralled by prayer.

Space does not mean the absence of colour or form, anymore than the air we breathe implies an absence just because we cannot see it. It has nothing to do with size, but the fact that it is white is important. White reflects light and warmth, increases our sense of spaciousness and confers a sense of freedom. It is the colour of the Resurrection and Ascension, of joy and triumph, of a transformation wrought by grace which reveals the mystery within. Pentecost will clothe us in red, the colour of blood and flame, but for now we are surrounded by white. It ‘unclutters’ us. White space helps us know ourselves, and knowing ourselves is a step towards knowing God.


The Ascension of the Lord

The Crucifixion and Ascension
The Crucifixion and Ascension

Sometimes a picture says what words cannot and makes connections we are in danger of forgetting.

Scholarly Note
This two-panel ivory relief carving (from the tenth century, Byzantine) depicts the Crucifixion and Ascension of Christ. In the Crucifixion, the sun and moon and Stephaton and Longinus are reversed from their usual positions. Longinus carries a sword rather than a spear. The style is related to the Nicephoros Group. The figures in the ascension stand upright, looking upwards towards Christ, who sits in a mandorla carried by two angels. The bottom border and parts of figures in the Crucifixion scene are broken off, as are the left border and upper left corner. There are several pinholes in the upper border and ground. ‘AVE MARIA’  has been scratched on the back and there is the impression of a seventeenth-century seal.

From the Walters Art Gallery and made available under Creative Commons Licence.



Ascension Sunday and World Communications Day

With luck, I’ll not have to write the words ‘Ascension Sunday’ next year as we live in hope that the feast will be restored to its proper day, but World Communications Day is likely to be with us for some time to come. Is there any link between the two? Does celebration of the Ascension enrich our understanding of world communications?

The theme for this year’s World Communications Day is Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age. It isn’t difficult to make a case for a link between the two with truth and proclamation. When the Lord Jesus ascended, the disciples were scarcely allowed to gaze into heaven before they were sent on their way to proclaim the Good News of salvation. Similarly, we are urged to use every means open to us to proclaim Christ and champion truth in our everyday lives. So far so good, but what are we to do about ‘authenticity of life in the digital age’? Is that just another empty phrase that falls from the lips of clergy trying very hard to sound ‘relevant’ in a world that has largely given up listening to them?

I have to admit that I have difficulty with the word ‘authentic’. Generally, I use it to mean ‘genuine’ but ‘genuineness of life in the digital age’ doesn’t convey very much to me. ‘Authentic’ can mean ‘faithfully resembling an original’ but with the original in question not spelled out, that doesn’t really help, either. A third meaning of ‘authentic’ is ‘based on facts, reliable’ which is certainly helpful as regards how one would wish to communicate, but I’m not sure it really fits the idea of living as such. Could it be that this phrase, so often used in religious documents, is reflecting the Existentialists’ ’emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life’? Well, that’s all right as far as it goes, but doesn’t it leave out something rather important? One of the gifts with which God graces human beings is humour, fun, a delight in the world he has created.

There are many places in the gospels where we see the Lord Jesus teasing people or playfully responding to the quips of others. Worried disciples had to be reassured that every hair on their head had been numbered or that taxes would be paid even if their purse was empty (surely there was a chuckle as Peter went off to fish in the lake for his half-shekel); the Syro-Phoenician woman won Jesus over with her repartee; the Samaritan Woman almost bantered her way into salvation. Even the excess of that first miracle at Cana has more than a hint of joyful exuberance about it. Shouldn’t our lives have something of the same?

To me ‘authenticity of life in the digital age’ shouldn’t be all grim purposefulness but should include an element of light-heartedness. So, whether we tweet or blog or FB, let it be as whole people, able to laugh as well as mourn, to joke as well as preach. I can’t help feeling that the Ascension had some divine humour in it. As the Lord Jesus ascended, the disciples were left gazing skywards and had to be prodded into action by a vision of angels. Even now, they did not fully understand. Surely, a huge smile spread over heaven.