Clouds and the


Exploring the Ascension for Religious Educators 

The Ascension of Jesus, commemorated on Thursday 18 May, 2023, 40 days after celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, is one of those experiences that has its own character. Celebrated at Mass last Sunday, the Ascension is one of the most important events recorded in the New Testament.
At school, I recall singing the hymn Peace I leave with you by Thomas Hastings (1897).
Peace, I leave with you, my friends!
Shalom my peace in all you do.
Peace, I leave with you, my friends.
I give to you so you can give to others too.
The divine presence
The Ascension is meaningful as it gives rise to the idea of the divine presence. The disciples experienced many astounding things with Jesus. They saw him crucified, then he came back to them. He talked to them and ate with them, then he was gone. Though, not totally gone.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jesus’ continuing presence is described as the ‘outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ (The Vatican 1993, Catechism n. 666). Recently, a young person in her first year of school captured something of this continued presence of Jesus. This student was asked about what she told Jesus in her prayer. She replied, ‘I love you, Jesus!’. For her, Jesus was a real presence.
Reflecting on the Ascension, other students were thinking about Jesus being ‘up there’, able to view the world and each of us, keep an eye on us, and look after us. These children have an idea of the divine presence in their midst.
Use of clouds in the Bible
Divine presence stories in the bible, inevitably, include clouds. I read the story of the Ascension and I see clouds, ‘as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight’ (Acts 1: 2).
It reminds me of the clouds in other divine presences. When Moses climbs Mount Sinai to collect the Law from God, God asks Moses to tell the people that God is in the cloud (Exodus 19: 9). It seems clear in the text that the people knew God was there, hidden in plain sight. Jesus’ story parallels those of Moses and Elijah. Jesus went up the mountain with Peter, James and John and while ‘his face [was] shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light’ (Mt 17: 2) the voice of God came from the cloud.
At the Ascension, the cloud is there hiding Jesus from view. For Moses’ people, God was in the cloud. To Jesus’ disciples, a voice came from the cloud. The cloud is a diverse image to work with as it hides, reveals, and contains. It is fluid, visible, and tangible. A cloud has substance, but it is not something you can control. You can see it but not contain it.
I like the way the Catechism describes Jesus’ Ascension as ‘his glory veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity symbolised by cloud’ (The Vatican 1993, Catechism n. 645).
What is clear is that the divine presence is all around us as clouds, hidden in plain sight.
St Ignatius was bold, telling us that God is in all things, however, our world likes to differentiate; life here, religion over there. What we do every day in Catholic schools is to tap into this cloud. It gets many names; sometimes it is liturgy or classroom Religious Education, other religious events or prayer, and other times it is sitting in someone’s sorrow.
Religious Education today
Catholic Christians are sacramental. Many of us will remember being taught as young people about sacraments being the visible sign of an inner reality. That is what Religious Education and Catholic schools are about – under the veil of ordinary human experience, being able to interpret the visible signs of the extraordinary inner reality that are everywhere around us.
I was at St Michael’s School, Ashburton recently and Deacon Malcolm was reflecting on ‘sacrament’ coming from of the Greek word ‘mysterion’ (mystery). The key here was in relation to the true nature of things. Modern culture thinks it can explain everything. How much better we are with some ‘mystery’ in our lives, allowing the clouds that ‘hide’, ‘contain’ or ‘reveal’, so that the true nature of things can be presented.
Fratelli Tutti is one of Pope Francis’ contributions to the world. He talks about fraternity and social friendship as the way to build a better, more just, and peaceful world, with the contribution of all people and institutions (Francis 2020).
In the first chapter, Pope Francis acknowledges the dark clouds on the horizon. In response to that, he suggests that we be strangers on the road like the ‘Good Samaritan’. He has a vision of all people with the right to live in dignity.
The MACS 2030 strategic plan invites us, in whatever role we have, to ‘form lives to enrich the world’ (MACS 2022). Twenty centuries on from the Ascension, we are at still at the start of our journey, with much work to do.
Francis (Pope) 2020, Fratelli tutti (On Fraternity and Social Friendship), The Holy See, accessed 23 May 2023
Hastings, T 1897, ‘Peace I leave with you’, Divine Hymns, accessed 23 May 2023
Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools (MACS) 2022, MACS 2030: Forming Lives to Enrich the World, MACS, East Melbourne, accessed 22 May 2023
The Vatican 1993, Catechism of The Catholic Church, The Holy See, accessed 23 May 2023