Pondering the Word

Ascension of the Lord: Matthew 28:16-20

05-24-2020Pondering the WordFr. Alcuin Hurl, FHS

In this Sunday's Gospel we witness the Jesus going up to heaven forty days after his resurrection (when traditionally celebrated on Ascension Thursday). The opening prayer at Mass or "the collect" calls us to rejoice with thanksgiving and be glad with "holy joys" at the departure of Jesus. What are these mysterious holy joys? How can we rejoice and give thanks for the departure of someone we love and whose immediate presence we so dearly need? Rather, shouldn't we mourn the loss of someone we love? Here are four reasons to rejoice at the ascension of Jesus.

First, we rejoice because Jesus takes our poor human nature all the way up to the throne of God. God indeed exalts our lowly human nature by lifting it up beyond all the angelic powers to a place it has never gone before. Before the Word became flesh Christ indeed had a divine nature and authority but without the assumption of human nature. Now in his human nature Jesus is given all authority in heaven and earth. This mystery is good news for us because wherever the head goes the body follows which means we as the body of Christ follow him to the throne of God.

For example when a Tour de France bicycle racer is speeding down a steep winding mountain road in the Alps he must always remember to keep his eyes fixed on the place where he wants to go. If he looks at one of the fans to the right or the left even for a split second he will crash right into them. Through faith and baptism we are the body of Christ and our head Jesus has been caught up to the throne of God. Therefore the Ascension gives us a firm and reasonable hope that we too will follow Jesus into heaven to enter the life of the Holy Trinity. This hope is solid and sure because in a sense we are already seated with Jesus in heaven even now as we dwell on earth. This is why St. Paul says: "(God) raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places" (Eph 2:6). This is what the theologians call a "realized eschatology." That is, we have the beginnings of eternal life even now which will be fulfilled at the end of time. We rejoice in the ascension because we too are seated with Jesus at the right hand of God.

Second we rejoice in the ascension because we receive the special blessing that Jesus promised to "those who have not seen but still believe." (Jn 20:29). A faith that believes in what cannot be seen is stronger than a faith that believes in what is seen. It is quite remarkable that our faith, hope and love for Jesus actually increases as Jesus departs.

Thomas Aquinas teaches that faith in Christ is more certain to those who believe than any scientific proof of an object we have seen. How can faith in the unseen be more certain than scientific knowledge of the visible world? With science we our inward assent to the truth is moved by seeing an object or proving it experimentally. But the inner dynamic of divine faith is such that the grace of God moves our our assent and will to believe in something we cannot see. In this way while the object of faith is more obscure than a material object known by science or reason it is nonetheless more certain due to the operation of grace in our hearts. Divine faith in what we cannot see is indeed a blessing because it gives us the freedom to not have to restrict our trust in only things we can see. We are not bound by the dictates of the visible world but can live a life of freedom with our eyes fixed on the invisible world of grace, God and the angels.

Divine faith in a believer's heart based on the testimony of the apostles shows forth God's glory and power to an unbelieving world. Though we have never seen him still we love him. I remember when I was painting a house on top of ladder talking about my knew found personal relationship with Jesus with a fellow worker. I told him that I was more certain of the existence of Jesus than the car in front of my eyes. He simply thought I was crazy and even got visibly angry at my assertion. Yet, over time when unbelievers see that Christinas are willing to even lay down their lives for a Savior they have never seen they recognize a special love and freedom that only faith can give.

Third we rejoice because the Ascension points us toward the sacramental life. St. Pope Leo the Great says: "Our redeemer's visible presence has now passed into the sacraments." While the unbeliever only sees a simple washing the believer sees another human being dying and rising with Christ forgiven of original sin and incorporated into the body of Christ in baptism. Whereas an unbeliever only sees a time of counseling with a priest the believer sees Christ forgiving his or her sins and healing their hearts. Whereas the unbeliever sees bread and wine and a meal the believer sees the body and blood of Christ and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The sacraments allow us to see into the invisible world of grace and imparts spiritual fruits and this sets us free.

Fourth we rejoice in the Ascension because now Jesus will send the promise of the Father to the Church. The ability to see into the invisible realm by faith and have a relationship with Jesus who we have never seen with our physical eyes is only possible by the power of the Spirit. Also the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts gives us the peace and joy that will carry us through dark times here on earth. This does not mean we won't have sadness, difficulty, and tragedy but it does mean we will have the strength to get through it. Finally the Holy Spirit gives us the inner conviction and love for the lost and so Jesus sends us to make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Holy Trinity. And as he promised we remember that Jesus will be with us always even to the end of the age especially in the sacraments. BACK TO LIST