Solemnity of the Ascension
Today in the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven, Christ seems to leave us and enter Heaven. But, He is not truly gone, but is present to us still, but in a new way. Christ ascends to the Father, but in a sense, He takes us all with Him. He brings together Heaven and Earth. The Apostles are not sorrowful at ‘losing’ Christ once more like they did in the Crucifixion, because this time He has conquered death and so will never be absent from them. They are in fact, joyful. They go back to Jerusalem and go the Temple, where we are told, they were continually ‘praising God’. But how is Christ present among us now that He has ascended into Heaven, and what does this mean for us today?
Christ, who is true God and true man, ascends into Heaven, and in a real sense, brings Heaven and Earth together. This is a reality today in the life of the Church. It is a reality everywhere where Mass is celebrated. In the Mass and in the Sacraments of the Church, the grace of God is a reality in the world. Christ has become present to us in a new way in the Sacraments of Faith.
Today there are many who feel that they do not find God in the Sacraments, and it seems to such persons that Christ, if He ascended into Heaven, must have ascended and never returned. It is a mindset completely at odds with the joy the Apostles had after the Ascension! The Apostles were full of joy we are told, and they went back to Jerusalem praising God in the Temple. But what was it they had, that allowed them to see Christ present in the life of the Church, even though He seemed to have left them? And what is it we need if we are to also see Christ present in the life of the Church and its Sacraments? What do we need to have in order to live live with that joy the Apostles had, a joy so total and complete that nothing, not even death by martyrdom, could abolish it?
The answer for us lies in the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. These three virtues are in the hearts of the Apostles when St Luke writes that they “were continually in the Temple praising God”. They were praising God because of their Faith in Christ, while looking with great Hope to the final resurrection of the dead, where we are all called to share eternal life with God in Heaven. And they are praising God when they live in the world and bring the Love of God to the world.
We are called to continually be praising God in the Temple. This allows us to see God present in His Church, especially in the Sacraments of Faith and the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our Christian life. Nowhere is Christ more present to us than he is at Mass.
All our apostolic effectiveness and all the joy we have in our Christian lives, are inextricably linked to Christ in His Ascension, where He becomes present to us in a new way – in the life of the Church and its Sacraments of Faith.
And He said to them, ‘So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this. ‘And now I am sending upon you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city, then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.’ Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and raising his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.