A Good Climb
Anyway, in keeping with tradition (since my boyhood, Mom would take us out of school on Ascension Thursday for a picnic in the mountains), I climbed a mountain on Thursday. One of the sisters lent me a bike and I rode to the foothills surrounding this part of Rio. I turned a corner on the trail and there was … a little monkey eating a banana. He dropped it and scrambled up a tree, and there he perched, regarding me with disapproval. “Oh, you little rascal,” I said, “you’re eating all the bananas!” He glanced slyly towards the other trees, and I followed his gaze. The surrounding branches were full of monkeys, all eyeing me with disapproving disdain. “OK, keep your blasted bananas,” I grumbled, and continued on my path. No use arguing with a jungleful of monkeys.
A Holy Hermit
Towards the top of the mountain, I passed through a crude wooden gate and came upon a little hut, with a smoldering fire, and a spring of water channeled through a bamboo stalk. An old man came out. “boa tarde,” he said with a slight smile. We didn’t communicate that well but he didn’t shoot me (the sisters had said that they “shoot people in those mountains” [who stumble upon their drug caches]). I guess this kindly old man was not making drugs, for he asked if I had made it to the top, and if I had friends with me. “Si,” I said in Spanish, “hasta la cima, y no, soy solo. Como si sale?” He smiled more broadly and pointed the way back down the hill with his stick. I wished I could’ve spoken Portuguese so as to learn wisdom from this holy hermit.
The “Obligation” to Feast
No matter where in the world I’ve been on Ascension Thursday, thank God I’ve managed to find a mountain to ascend. On the tops of those mountains one often meets God, or at least God’s servants (holy hermits and little monkeys). It is in our nature to seek that which is above, to spend more time with God, not less…. which is why the bishops, God bless them, should not waste any more time. Please, Your Excellencies: restore the Solemnity of the Ascension to Thursday. You moved it to Sunday perhaps thinking that you were doing us a favor in removing another Mass obligation. But Holy Days of “Obligation”—so few in the year anyway—feed our starving souls with the great mysteries. They are no more onerous than the “obligation” to eat Thanksgiving dinner. I hope the US Government never thinks of moving Thanksgiving from Thursday to Sunday so as to relieve Americans of “yet another holiday.” Even though most of us will not celebrate Ascension until today, let us keep the Great Novena for the Holy Spirit, lifting our hearts and minds to the heights, where God dwells and where he prepares a place for us to join him.