Saturday, May 31, 2014

June 1, 2014: Ascension of Our Lord

The Ascension of the Lord As the disciples witnessed the stunning sight of Jesus ascending from their midst corporally (see Acts 1: 9), their question must have been: What now? Without doubt the event moved them to reflect on how much their lives had changed since meeting Jesus Christ and living day after day in his physical presence. With the Ascension, would it all be over? No, for the Lord had commanded them to “wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1: 4). And the promise of the Father always takes the form of a new way of being loved.

St. Augustine (d. 430) recognizes the need for the Ascension by simply acknowledging a fact of human experience. As long as Christ continued to dwell among them, the thoughts of the disciples would remain focused on “the Man Jesus … unable to give their minds to God.” But “if the Man should be withdrawn from their eyes and from among them, then they would think of his divinity.” St. Augustine imagines Jesus saying: “Let my mortal body be raised up to heaven that you may learn what you are to hope for.” 

In fact, as St. Leo the Great comments: “[ The Son of God] now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity.”  Pope Benedict XVI develops this further:
 “Ascension” does not mean departure into a remote region of the cosmos but, rather, the continuing closeness that the disciples experience so strongly that it becomes a source of lasting joy…. Now … through his power over space, he is present and accessible to all — throughout history and in every place. 

Even more, Jesus’ ascension into heaven redefines the very notion of “heaven.” Pope Benedict XVI says that heaven is not a place but a person — the person in whom God and human beings are forever, inseparably one. And since Jesus himself is what we call “heaven,” we enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus and live united with him as he participates in the Father’s royal power. “In this sense, ‘ascension into heaven’ can be something that takes place in our everyday lives.”

Lord Jesus, as you are lifted from our sight at the Ascension, you lift up our hearts. You make it possible for us to set our eyes and minds on the higher things of heaven . You love us in a new way. Outwardly you withdraw from us, but inwardly you fill us with yourself . It is in your divinity that you take possession of our souls. Be ever more present to me with your divine life. Dwell within me that I may be inwardly changed and given a share in your heavenly glory. Free me from all undue attachments that keep me from living in the truth . On this day, you teach us what we are to hope for. May the Ascension grace of your continuing closeness be for me a source of lasting joy.

-Fr. Peter Cameron OP, Novena for the Church Year