May 21, 2023 Essay: Do Not Cling to Me

May 15, 2023

I am the father of two beautiful sons, Michael and Matthew, ages 13 and 15. I can’t express in words how much my wife Jessica and I cherish our time with them. We’ve made wonderful memories together—the fishing trips, the summer days at the beach, the baseball games, the heartfelt conversations, and the sheer joy of watching them discover their passions and joys. Yet I know the day is coming, and soon, when I will need to let them go.

Our sons must leave home to become men in their own right. Their parting will be, in a way, a death; a moment of grief and sadness, for the “little boys” will be gone. Our relationship will change, and they will become our peers more than our children. This passage will be painful, and I can only imagine the emotion that will be triggered when I look into their boyhood rooms to see their little beds empty, their toys permanently set aside, their desks vacant. I find hope and consolation, however, in what Jesus told his disciples before he left them—“It is for your good that I go away” (John 16:7), in what he told Mary Magdalene on that first Easter morning, “Do not cling to me…I am ascending” (John 20:17.)

Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, among the most insightful spiritual writers of our time, says that the spirituality and theology of the ascension can be summarized like this: “Refuse to cling to what once was, let it go and let it bless you, so that you can recognize the new life you already have with and within you and receive its spirit.” He observes that the ascension is a symbol of a paradox of the human condition “we all reach a point in life where we can only give our presence more deeply by going away so that others can receive the full blessing of our spirits.”

Our sons will undergo their own ascension when they take the nurturing that we gave them and ascend to a richer, more mature, more abundant way of being. Their new life will come back as a blessing to us and to the world. Our little boys will leave us in the form that we have known them, but this will be necessary so that they can give us the much deeper blessing of their adulthood. Yes, it is good that they go away, for then they will become the men God created them to be!

The Ascension marks Jesus’ final departure, but it is also a threshold through which he becomes present to the church in a way that was not possible before. His parting brings the Spirit, the one who stands beside us as a helper, counselor, and comforter; the one who inspires the apostles to bring the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.” Moreover, by his ascension, Jesus becomes our advocate before the Holy One in the highest heaven; a brother who stands before God on our behalf. So much grace was born of his parting!

The ascension story ends, according to the Acts of the Apostles, with the disciples gazing into the heavens as Jesus is “taken up before their very eyes.” They are admonished, however, by the two men dressed in white, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” The women and men who knew Jesus in the flesh wanted, I’m sure, to cling to what was, to what they knew, to that which was familiar, as we all do. But the Spirit compelled them to embrace the new reality, to trust in God’s grace, to continue Jesus’ ministry, and move forward into an age of fruitfulness. As we journey through the many ascensions of our lives, let us take hope and comfort that sad partings are also doorways to unimaginable light and life.

— Brian Pinter, Pastoral Associate