Fr. Kenneth Doyle
Fr. Kenneth Doyle
Q — I can understand that Jesus died on the cross to reconcile us with the Father, but why do we say that Jesus died to forgive our sins when we must repent continually for those sins? (city and state withheld)

A — The Bible does say that Jesus has forgiven our sins; St. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:13 that “even when you were dead in transgressions ... he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.”

But it is perhaps more precise to say that Jesus, by suffering and dying for our redemption, has simply opened for us the possibility of heaven — something we could not have done for ourselves.

The question remains, though, that if pardon for sin comes ultimately from Christ's work on Calvary, how is it received by individuals? The answer is that Jesus wants us to do our own part in making amends for our sins, so our eternal salvation is not automatic.

Remember that Matthew's Gospel (25:41) pictures Jesus at the last judgment saying to some, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” If the manner of our life has effectively been a denial of God's teachings, we will be judged on that.

And if God had already forgiven all human sin in a single act, it would have made no sense for Christ to bestow on the disciples the power to forgive sins when he told them (Jn 20:22-23) following the resurrection: “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Nor would it have made sense for Jesus, when teaching the disciples to pray the Our Father, to explain, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Mt 6:14-15).

Q — Where did the Ascension take place? Matthew and Mark tell us that the apostles are to go back to Galilee, but Luke says that they should stay in Jerusalem until Jesus has risen. (Louisville, Kentucky)

A — On the top of the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem's Old City is a small hexagonal chapel that commemorates the site of the ascension of Jesus.

St. Luke narrates in the Acts of the Apostles how the disciples gathered with Jesus and “as they were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Then, Luke notes, “they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath's journey away” (Acts 1:9-12).

In the weeks following his rising from the dead, Jesus appeared to the apostles and disciples on a number of occasions, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee.

On Easter itself, he appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the women at the tomb, to Peter, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and to the 10 apostles in Jerusalem (when Thomas was not present).

A week later, when Thomas was with them, he appeared again to the apostles in Jerusalem. Later, he appeared to seven disciples as they were fishing near the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 21:1) and to 11 disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Mt 28:16).

The ascension marks the final departure of Jesus for heaven following this series of apparitions. From then on, the disciples were to live by faith and communicate with Jesus through prayer and the sacraments.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 659) explains the sequence, “Christ's body was glorified at the moment of his resurrection, as proved by the new and supernatural properties it subsequently and permanently enjoys.

“But during the 40 days when he eats and drinks familiarly with his disciples and teaches them about the kingdom, his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity.

“Jesus' final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God's right hand.”