When last in the Holy Land in the spring of 1979 and before my diaconate ordination in Rome, I went to the mount of the Ascension; east of Jerusalem.  It is believed to be the place where “a cloud took him from sight” as the scripture reminds us; his life now hidden in God. Inside the chapel built on the spot is found a stone with footprints.  We were told they were Jesus’ footprints: imprints of his bodily presence left behind after the Ascension.  Of course, my critical mind kicked into disbelief when looking at them and as I thought:  “Are you serious?” I then imagined myself stepping into those footprints to see if I possibly shared the same sandal size and measured up.   Of course I did not try, nor had any intention of, overstepping my bounds in the still and awful silence of that place overlooking the Holy City.  At that age and time in my life, I knew well that I could never measure up to Christ’s humility and compassion, sinner that I am.

After all these years, however, and amid life’s twists and turns in my search for God, I do know, without a doubt, that Christ never demands that we measure up.  Rather, what is asked of us is that we follow the path life is and within the freedom given us; the unique God-given nature that is ours.   It is within those “two freedoms”—God’s and our own—that we find our way to God’s will, according to Thomas Merton.  Within the freedom of such love we make our way to God.  We’re not asked to find some blueprint—or footprint for that matter—when it comes to this will for our lives.  God’s will is discovered one step at a time and as we allow ourselves to be freely led by the One who accompanies us.  This is what Christ revealed when he walked this earth, and that continues to manifest itself by the gift of the Spirit and inscape of grace.

I am much older now, with more years behind than ahead of me.  Yet, I like to think I’m a bit wiser due to the spiritual geography I’ve covered and with all that has been learned and suffered.  So, I see those footprints back in Jerusalem to be true after all, in that they reveal a deep and lasting truth about Jesus:  that he walked this earth and knows first-hand our “footsore journey”.  By following the will of his Father, Jesus left his mark upon this fallen and graced world of ours; a lasting impression that remains within the sacramental life, the air we breathe as well as the countless women and men who, over the centuries, have patterned their lives after Christ.

Those footsteps on the mount  and as we celebrate Jesus’ Ascension once again, show us what it means to rise beyond self by making the gospel our guide in this life; all of it leading to God.   Those hallowed footsteps teach us, without words and when taken to heart, that   our way to God is earthly; one step at a time. This was brought to mind by a line in the 8th century Anglo-Saxon poem called, “Dream of the Rood”.  I studied it in high school years ago and re-read it recently thanks to parishioner Christina Smith who presently lives in the U.K. while completing graduate work that includes this poem; a poem inscribed on both sides of an 18 foot stone cross.  The following line is the one that caught my eye:

Each soul who thinks to dwell with the Ruler must seek the kingdom by the earthly way.

To me, this is the enduring lesson taught by those footsteps in stone and outside Jerusalem:  that we make our way to God in very down-to-earth ways and by following the path life opens before us and with the gospel as our guide.   This is what Jesus taught and has left behind.  This alone saves us from those dead-ends and circuitous self-centered routes that lead nowhere.   It is the true way we live out this mystery we celebrate today; within our lives and time given us.

Father Tim Clark, pastor


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