You Will be My Witnesses

The Ascension of the Lord

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”

Acts 1:8

The gospel for this Sunday, when most of the dioceses in the US observe the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, contains the Great Commission to “proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). This is the mission statement of the Church. But what is the gospel we preach? What is the good news we proclaim?

The good news is that the kingdom of God is at hand (cf. Mk 1:15). This is what the coming of the Messiah signified — the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. Many Jews in the first century missed the coming of Christ because they understood the kingdom in earthly, political terms. They were looking for salvation from the Romans, not salvation from their sins. Even the Apostles and Christ’s closest followers were not always clear on what God’s kingdom really meant. 

In the first reading this Sunday from the Acts of the Apostles, we find the disciples speaking with Jesus some forty days after the Resurrection. They had heard Jesus preach. They had witnessed his greatest miracles. They had seen him risen from the dead. There was no doubt remaining: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And so now they ask him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They knew Christ had all power and authority from God. They were just waiting for him to spring into action. 

Jesus’ response to their question about the restoration of the kingdom was to tell them how it was to come about. He tells them, “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). And after saying this, Christ ascended into heaven to take his place at the right hand of the Father.

Nine days later, on the feast of Pentecost, the Apostles did receive the Holy Spirit. And they did give witness to the Lord (most with their lives — the word martyr means “witness”) in Jerusalem, Judea (the southern kingdom where Jerusalem is located), Samaria (where the northern kingdom of Israel once existed), and eventually to the ends of the earth (including Cullowhee). This is the story of the Church recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and continuing until today. The restoration of the kingdom of Israel is the Catholic Church; and the kingdom is spread by evangelization — by witnessing to the Lord in both word and deed just as the Apostles and first disciples did.

Last Sunday, two of our students received the sacrament of Confirmation. In this sacrament, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Christian disciple who is anointed, and they receive their share of the grace of Pentecost. They receive their share in the power of the Holy Spirit and the mission of the Church.

This is the work of every confirmed Christian — to be Christ’s witnesses in whatever corner of the world we may find ourselves, by the proclamation of the faith and the witness of a holy life. To proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom means first and foremost allowing God to reign supreme in your heart and then inviting others to do the same. The whole work of the Apostles — and the prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers whom St. Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:11 — is to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ…” (Eph 4:12). Who are the “holy ones” he mentions? It’s you. It’s every baptized Christian. 

Campus ministry — and every ministry of the Church — is not just another club or organization. It’s not something you “go to.” It’s not something to participate in while you are there and leave behind when you are not. It’s meant to be a house of formation. It’s a training ground for mission, meant to equip you to do the important work of building up the Body of Christ. That’s what the Church is.

That doesn’t just mean here on campus, but at home, over the summer, at your job or internship, and even on vacation. For those who are graduating (congratulations!) this is something to take with you wherever you go as you begin your careers and start families of your own. 

I hope and pray that you continue to participate in your faith after college. But that means more than joining a parish and going to Mass. It means building up the kingdom. It means proclaiming the good news. 

If you are baptized, then you are part of the Body of Christ. If you are confirmed, then you have received the Holy Spirit. That means Jesus’ parting words to the Apostles are also directed at you. Now go and be his witnesses.


As the month of May is dedicated in a special way to the Blessed Mother, we will end on a Marian note. Being Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth may sound like an impossible task. But that’s why Christ sends his Holy Spirit. When Mary was given the impossible task of bearing a child while remaining a virgin, she wondered “how could this be?” (Lk 1:34). She was told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you… for with God nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:35, 37). Let these words first spoken to the Mother of our Lord fill us with confidence in the power of the Spirit within each of us to accomplish all that God calls us to achieve.