Just before his Ascension, Christ gave us the Great Commission that defines our vocation as Christians.
During his life on earth, Christ gave his disciples advice and directions many, many times. But the Ascension was something different and special: In his last moments before leaving this world, he gave us his ultimate and defining instructions. Understanding this overarching mission is key to our lives as Christians.
The various Gospels give us slightly different versions of Christ’s final orders, but they share a unifying theme and cogent message.
Christ calls his followers to be his witnesses:
“But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
He tells us to share his good news far and wide:
He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
Most of all, he calls us to teach all the world to follow him and obey his directives:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
These last instructions from Christ have been referred to as the “Great Commission” and they are central to the Christian vocation. This feast of the Ascension being celebrated today is the perfect time to reflect on how we can fulfill them.
Of course, there are many things involved in following Christ, enough to fill the whole Bible and Catechism. But we can focus on these three actions as some of the most important, practically speaking.
1. Love one another
I recently saw someone on Instagram ask, “What’s something you’re supposed to like but you actually find slightly annoying?” Quite a few people responded something like, “As a Christian? People. I’m supposed to love others but some of you make it really hard!”
It’s a funny way of expressing a profound truth. Loving other people is the number one thing we’re supposed to do as Christians, but it’s also the hardest … by a lot.
We can look to the example of St. John the Evangelist, who memorably illustrates how striving to live as a Christian should change us deeply.
As young men, St. John and his brother St. James were called the “sons of thunder” for their fierce and fiery personalities. At one point during Christ’s public ministry, they suggested calling down fire from heaven to destroy villagers who didn’t welcome Jesus (Luke 9:54). Clearly, the Christian message of repeated forgiveness had not yet sunk into their hearts!
But many decades later, St. John had distilled all that he had learned from Christ into a single sentence: “Little children, love one another.” St. Jerome tells the story in his Commentary on Galatians:
The blessed John the Evangelist lived in Ephesus until extreme old age. His disciples could barely carry him to church and he could not muster the voice to speak many words. During individual gatherings he usually said nothing but, “Little children, love one another.” The disciples and brothers in attendance, annoyed because they always heard the same words, finally said, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” He replied with a line worthy of John: “Because it is the Lord’s commandment and if it alone is kept, it is sufficient.”
From a raging “son of thunder” to the gentle old man of Ephesus, St. John came to epitomize his own distillation of the Christian vocation. We can take this message very much to heart this Ascension: “Love one another.”
2. Pray for individual people and for our world
When we see the many problems around us, both large and small, it’s tempting to think that the solutions are entirely up to us. But nothing we can do is more powerful than what God can make happen.
Let’s lift up in prayer our friends and family members who are struggling in various ways. Let’s also unite to lift up the broader needs of the Church and the world. Let’s pray with real confidence in God’s providence and trust him to act.
3. Joyfully share the reason for your hope
St. Peter encouraged his fellow Christians, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). In the same way, let’s be ready to share the reason behind what we do.
Truly living as a Christian often means swimming upstream against the current of cultural pressures. Our lives might stand out as different in the milieu of the workplace, our neighborhoods, and even our own families.
When someone comments or asks why we do these things, we have an opportunity to be witnesses as Christ asked us to be, sharing the reason for our hope with friendliness and simplicity.