When I was little, one of the most exciting memories for me was my first trip to Fenway Park. I was young – 7 I think – and the thought of seeing my Red Sox, LIVE, and where they played, was almost too much to bear. The Boston Red Sox were playing the Washington Senators. (For those of you not old enough to remember, these Senators became the Texas Rangers. The previous Senators became the Minnesota Twins.) At that time, in Boston, getting to Fenway Park was not so easy, and as one might expect the rural Vermonters did not have such an easy time of it. We got lost.
Now driving in Boston is an adventure. I know that there are those who think they face the worst drivers, but I think Boston, or New York, easily take the cake. If you have driven in Boston, you might know that they have rules for driving that are a little bit different than other places. First, using direction signals rarely occurs, since you would not want to tip off the enemy. Stop signs are merely suggestions. I hope you get the idea.
Finally, my father did the unthinkable for a man. He stopped to ask for directions. This was a monumental event. My father was like most men, where asking for directions is seen as a tremendous sign of weakness. “I know where we are.” But, after circling Fenway for what seemed like an eternity, we stopped at a gas station. These were the days when there were station attendants who pumped the gas into your car. At this stop, there were two men outside. I watched as my father walked over to them. It did not go as I expected. My father obviously asked how to get to Fenway. But the two men immediately pointed in opposite directions, and I new we were in trouble. They argued, and I think my father tried to remember enough of the argument to get us where we needed to go.
Being lost is not a pleasant experience. It can be especially challenging when the destination is one of excitement for us, like traveling on a vacation. Perhaps in the age of the GPS, being lost is not as difficult as it used to be. A calming voice speaks the directions to get us where we need to go. But when we are lost, either with directions to a destination or in our lives, it is not a good place to be.
Jesus did not want such to be the case for us. It may have seemed easier if Jesus simply remained in a visible form here on earth after his resurrection. Why did he ascend back to his place in heaven at the right hand of the Father? It is because being here on this earth is not our final destination. Heaven is our ultimate end and destination. The destination where we live and love with God for all eternity.
Even though we may know this to be true, the events of our daily lives can lead us astray. What are we to do in the face of the wars, violence and terrors we hear about so often? Imagine how desperate our existence would be if this was all there was? Imagine how pitiable we would be if those killed by ISIS, for example, had their entire existence ended by their killing. Such despair. Imagine the sadness of a child contracting a terminal illness. Imagine how tragic it would be if those who are starving in our world could not at all hope for anything different? There are many instances where these sad and tragic events would be made all the worse if this earth, and this life on earth were our ultimate end.
But it is not. Jesus did not want to leave our final destination as one where we would not know the way to get there. Even the disciples needed to ask how to get to the place where Jesus is going. But he did not want us to be left to our own devices. He wanted there to be certainty about the way, and so he reminds us he is the Way. And further, we now begin our waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The nine days between the traditional date for the celebration of the Ascension and the celebration of Pentecost is what gives rise to our notion of a novena, as the word comes from the Latin for nine. So not only do we seek to follow the Way, Jesus, but we wait because he will do even more for us. He will send the Spirit into our lives, so that we may have the help we need to live a life that leads us on the way to Christ.
What is it you should do over these nine days? How about using this time to pray. That is what the apostles and Mary did in the Upper Room. They were frightened and scared, but they new from where their strength came from. And so they placed themselves in the presence of God. So perhaps over these nine days you might seek to read the bible prayerfully. Maybe you would try to get to a daily Mass or two. Perhaps you might pray the rosary, or repeat a Scripture verse over and over. Maybe you simply find silence. You may seek in that silence to repeat prayerfully, “Come, Holy Spirit”. Whatever, take this time of waiting to come to know the Christ. Because of his example, presence and grace, you know the way.