Gospel Contemplation: Solemnity of the Ascension
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Background to the text
In the Archdiocese of Washington, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension on the Sunday before Pentecost.
Like the Gospel of John, the Gospel according to Matthew does not actually include a scene of Jesus ascending to heaven -- thus we have that scene instead in the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles. In Matthew, Jesus only appears twice after his resurrection. First, to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary on the road and then in this final scene we have today, when he commissions his disciples.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for whatever grace you need right now.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Jesus has risen from the dead and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary have seen him. He has told them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee. So you go – go with the disciples to Galilee, or even better perhaps, go with your own friends in the Lord.
Who are those friends – your friends in faith? People you’ve known a long or short time – perhaps some members of your family? Take a moment to choose your companions for this journey.
How do you get to Galilee from Jerusalem? You could walk – it’s about 32 hours, so you’ll need to stop at an inn or camp along the way. Or if you’re imaging a more contemporary scene it’s about two hours by car and three by bus.
What is your journey like? What do you and your friends discuss as you look forward to finally seeing Jesus again? How do you feel – anxious, excited?
Once you’re in Galilee, you head to the mountain where you know Jesus will meet you. As you climb together, a peaceful quiet falls over your group. As you approach the meeting place on the mountain, you see him there, waiting for you. What feeling arises in you?
You worship him – how? Pay attention to your feelings in this moment. Is there any hesitation or doubt?
Jesus begins to speak to you. Listen, knowing he is speaking directly to you, and notice what part of what he says touches you most right now:
He says, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
He says, "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,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
He says, "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
What are you drawn to? What does it mean for you?
Spend a few moments with either with Jesus or with one of your companions and share what you have felt and experienced. And when you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?