By David Baumann
A month ago my father celebrated his birthday. More than two dozen people came together to help him celebrate. Each person there was given an opportunity to tell a story or relate an experience he or she had shared with him.
When it was my turn, I told how he and my mother had come to my high school graduation ceremony, held in the late afternoon on a weekday in June 1966. When the ceremonies were over, the thousand-plus graduates headed excitedly out to the bus that would take us to Disneyland for our all-night party. I remember how my father searched me out and found me in the crowd of bubbly kids heading for the bus. He had a big smile on his face, his movie camera that he was grinding, and a spot of blood on his cheek. I was too excited to ask him about the blood.
When I got home early the next morning, my mother told me that during the graduation ceremony my father had fallen down the stairs in the stands and broken his arm. Rather than go to the hospital immediately, he stayed to the end of the ceremony. Then he went to the hospital and was admitted overnight for surgery to repair the break.
I learned then that one of the things that fathers are to do is to be present to support their children, especially in the great moments of their children’s lives. Sometimes doing so can be difficult or even costly, but we are still to do it. Even as adults, we want people to be with us in our times of celebration and our times of need. “Being there” for someone is one of the ways we show love, one of the vital ways in which we live out what it means to be the Christian community.
“I am with you always, to the close of the age,” Jesus said at his Ascension. It was his last resurrection appearance, the last time he was seen on Earth in his body. Though the disciples stayed in that place on the outskirts of Jerusalem and kept looking after Jesus when he was gone, afterward they showed no signs of ever feeling abandoned. Jesus kept his promise, though his presence among them was experienced in a different way from what they had known before.
In his body, Jesus could be present in only one place. After the Ascension, in another way, he could be present everywhere. Now there is no place where one can go where Jesus cannot be one’s intimate companion. There are many people who have testified to knowing the presence of Jesus in some powerful, real, but intangible fashion. And the assurance of his presence in a time of trial or celebration made that moment endurable, or even bright beyond promise.
One teaching on the feast of the Ascension is that believers in Christ will never be alone. It has been more than half a century since I graduated from high school, and most memories of that time have faded. The one that stands out most is that my father was there for me, even when it was difficult and costly for him to do so.
The Rev. David Baumann is a retired priest of the Diocese of Springfield.