The Ascension of our Lord
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
The month of May is dedicated to increased devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Let us ask Jesus and St. Joseph to teach us to practice great love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary!
This Sunday we celebrate the Mystery of the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven. This week I share with you a meditation on the Ascension of our Lord. I encourage you to reflect over this mes-sage a few times this week:
“Jesus awaits us in Heaven - Christ’s glorious exaltation culmi-nates in the Ascension: According to the Gospel of St. Luke, the last gesture of our Lord on earth was to give a blessing (Luke 24:51). The Eleven had gone, as Jesus had told them to, from Gali-lee to the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. On seeing the Risen Christ once more they fell down before Him as their Master and their God and worshipped Him (cf Matthew 28:17). Now they are much more conscious of what they had for some time believed in their hearts and confessed with their lips: that their Master was the Messiah (Matthew 16:18). They were delighted and full of joy at having their Lord and their God so near. After the forty days spent in His company, they could be witnesses to what they had seen and heard. The Holy Spirit would confirm in them the teachings of Je-sus and would lead them to the complete Truth.
The Master spoke to them as only God could: Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me’ (Matthew 28:18). Jesus confirmed the Faith of those who wor-shipped Him and taught them that the power they were to receive was a sharing in His own Divine Power. The power to forgive sins, and to bring about a rebirth through Baptism is the power of Christ Himself, given now to His Church. The mission of the Church is to continue always the work of Christ, to teach men Divine Truths and make known the demands these Truths impose, to help men follow God’s way through the grace of the sacraments.
He said to them… ‘You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth’. And when He said this, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight (Acts 1:7-9). Thus does St. Luke describe for us the Ascension in the Acts of the Apostles.
He withdrew from their sight little by little. The Apostles remained for a long while, looking up as Jesus ascended majestically until a cloud took Him out of their sight. It was the cloud that signifies the presence of God (cf Exodus 13:22; Luke 9:34 ff). In St. John Chrysostom’s words: It was a sign that Jesus had entered Heaven (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, 2).
Jesus’ life on earth finished not with His death on the Cross but with His Ascension into Heaven. It is the last of the mysteries of His life here on earth. It is a redemptive mystery which together Mystery. It was fitting that those who saw Christ die amid insults, scoffing and mockery on the Cross should see Him now exalted. They see fulfilled now the words Jesus had one day spoken to them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God (John 20:17). And again: Now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to Thee (John 17:11).
We meditate on the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven in the sec-ond Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. In the words of the Founder of Opus Dei: Jesus has gone to the Father. – Two Angels in white approach us and say, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to Heaven? (Acts 1:11) Peter and the others go back to Jerusalem – ‘cum gaudio magno’ – with great joy (Luke 24:52). It is fitting that the Sacred Humanity of Christ should receive the homage, praise and adoration of all the hierarchies of the Angels and of all the legions of the Blessed in Heaven (St. Jose Escriva, Holy Ro-sary, Second Glorious Mystery).
His Ascension strengthens and nourishes our desire for Heav-en. The hope of Heaven should be fostered: In a sermon to commemorate today’s solemnity, St. Leo the Great said: Today we are not only made possessors of Paradise but with Christ we have ascended, mystically but also really, to the highest Heavens and have won through Christ a grace more wonderful than the one we had lost (St. Gregory the Great, Homily I on the Ascension).
The Ascension strengthens and nourishes our hope of attaining Heaven. It invites us always to lift up our hearts, as the preface of the Holy Mass says, and seek the things that are above. Our hope is very great because Christ Himself has gone to prepare a dwelling place for us (cf John 14:2). Jesus is in Heaven with His glorified Body, with the signs of His Redemptive Sacrifice (Revelation 5:6) and with the marks of His Passion, marks which Thomas could see and touch, marks which bring about our salvation. The Sacred Humanity of Christ has its natural place in Heaven but He who gave His life for us awaits us there. Christ awaits us. We are ‘citizens of Heaven’ (Phil 3:20), and at the same time fully-fledged citizens of this earth, in the midst of difficulties, injustices and lack of understanding, but also in the midst of the joy and serenity that comes from knowing that we are children of God… If, in spite of everything, Jesus’ ascen-sion into Heaven leaves a certain taste of sadness in our souls, let us go to His Mother, as the Apostles did. ‘They returned to Jerusa-lem… and they prayed with one mind… together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus (St. Jose Escriva, Christ is passing by, 126).
The hope of Heaven will fill our day with joy. We will imitate the Apostles who, in the words of St. Leo the Great, benefitted so greatly from the Ascension of our Lord that all that beforehand had caused them fear now caused them joy. From that moment on, their souls were fixed in contemplation on the Divinity seated at the right hand of the Father; the very vision of His Body was no obstacle to their believing with their minds illumined by Faith that Christ had not separated Himself from His Father when He de-scended, and had not separated Himself from His disciples when He ascended (St. Leo the Great, Sermon 74, 3).
The Ascension and the Christian’s Apostolic Mission: And while they were gazing into Heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into Heaven? This Jesus, who was taken from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven’ (Acts 1:11). Like the Apostles, we remain partly per-plexed and partly saddened at His departure. It is not easy, in fact, to get accustomed to the physical absence of Jesus. I am moved when I think that, in an excess of love, He has remained with us, even when He has gone away. He has gone to Heaven and, at the same time, He gives Himself to us as our nourishment in the Sa-cred Host. Still, we miss His human speech, His way of acting, of looking, of smiling, of doing good. We would like to go back and regard Him closely again, as He sits down at the edge of the well, tired from His journey (cf John 4:6); as He weeps for Lazarus (cf John 11:35); as He prays for a long time (cf Luke 6:12); as He feels pity for the crowd (cf Matt 15:32; Mark 8:2)
It has always seemed logical to me that the most Holy Humanity of Christ should ascend to the glory of the Father. The Ascension has always made me very happy. But I think that the sadness that is particular to the day of the ascension is also a proof of the love we feel for Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is God made man, perfect man, with flesh like ours, with blood like ours in His veins. Yet He leaves us and goes up to Heaven. How can we help but miss His presence (St. Jose Escriva, Christ is passing by, 117)?
The angels told the apostles that it was now time for them to begin the task before them, that there was not a minute to be wasted. With the Ascension Christ’s earthly mission comes to a close, and ours, as His disciples, begins. It is good that, today in our prayer, we hear the words with which Jesus intercedes for us before His Father: I do not pray that Thou shouldst take them out of the world (John 17:15), out of our proper place in society, out of our job or family, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. Jesus wishes each of us to remain in His place, sanctifying the world from within, improving it and placing it at the feet of God. Only thus will the world be a place where human dignity is valued and respected, a place where men live in peace, in true peace, the peace which is so closely linked to God.
Today’s feast reminds us that our concern for souls is a response to a command of love given to us by our Lord. As He goes up to Heaven, Jesus sends us out as His witnesses throughout the whole world. Our responsibility is great, because to be Christ’s witness implies first of all that we should try to behave according to His doctrine, that we should struggle to make our actions remind others of Jesus and His most lovable personality (St. Jose Escriva, Christ is passing by, 122).
Those we live and work with, those we come in contact with, should find us loyal, sincere, joyful and hardworking. We should behave as people who fulfill their duties honestly and live as children of God in the ups and downs of each day. The ordinary norms of courtesy (how we greet others, our cordiality and spirit of service), which for many are merely conventional and external, have to be in us the fruit of charity and an expression of real interest in someone else.
Jesus departs, but He remains close to each of us. In a special way we find Him in the Tabernacle, perhaps in one not far from where we live or work. Let us have recourse to Him there, even though often we cannot go physically but only with our heart, and ask Him to help us in our apostolic endeavours. Let us tell Him that He can count on us to make known His teaching everywhere we go.
The Apostles returned to Jerusalem in the company of Mary. With her, they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit. Let us too prepare for the coming of Pentecost staying close to our Lady.” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Heaven, St. Joseph, St. Michael and St. Paul, may God bless grant us the grace to desire Heaven each day!
In Christ through Mary,