The Ascension. A miniature from the Largvisi Triodion A-25, 134v, 15th century. National Center of Manuscripts, Tbilisi, Georgia
Ascension and Mission
1) Legal certainty and joy.
In the Creed we recite “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” That means that we believe the fact that Christ’s humanity has entered the heart of God. Where God is, there is heaven, and love is heaven on earth. Consequently, “the Ascension does not point to Jesus’ absence, but tells us that he is alive in our midst in a new way. He is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each one of us. In our life we are never alone: we have this Advocate who awaits us, who defends us. “(Pope Francis, General Audience, April 17, 2013).
It is therefore correct to say that one of the lessons that comes from the Ascension is that we too can rise to the top, but only if we remain tied to Jesus. If we entrust our lives to Him, if we let ourselves be guided by Him, we are sure to be in safe hands, in the hands of our savior, of our defense advocate. “In our life we are never alone: we have this Advocate who awaits us, who defends us.” (Pope Francis, General Audience, and April 17, 2013)
Another lesson that we must have clear is that entering into the glory of God demands daily fidelity to his will, even when it requires sacrifice and acceptance of the cross because “the elevation on the cross signifies and announces the elevation of the ascension into heaven “(Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 661). In this ascent “the Crucified and Risen Lord guides us. We have with us a multitude of brothers and sisters who, in silence and concealment, in their family life and at work, in their problems and hardships, in their joys and hopes, live faith daily and together with us bring the world the lordship of God’s love, in the Risen Jesus Christ, ascended into Heaven, our own Advocate who pleads for us.”(Pope Francis, General Audience, April 17, 2013)
A third lesson comes from the first reading of today’s Mass, which presents the event of the Ascension as recounted by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. It teaches us how to have the joy of the Apostles that comes by the certainty of the constant presence of the risen Jesus in our personal life and in that of the community.
This certitude and this joy can be ours if we ask with a sincere heart and mind the blessing that Jesus gave to the Apostles while ascending into Heaven.
In this way, like the Apostles, we will live the ascension of the Risen Lord not as a separation or as the Lord’s permanent absence.
In this way we will have confirmed and increased the certainty that the Risen Crucified One is alive and that in Him the doors of God, the doors of eternal life have been always open.
In this way, on Ascension Day, we may have in our hearts not just the pain of departure, but also the certainty and the joy of the constant proximity of Christ, although in a different way than in his earthly life. “He, that two thousand years ago was a special man in history, continues to this day to live in history as the soul of the Church” (H.U. von Balthasar).
2) Ascension and Mission.
In the short narration of the Ascension (third reading of this Sunday) that Saint Mark makes, we see that, more than on the Ascension per se, the Risen Jesus invites us to draw the consequences of his going to the Father: the Apostles and with them the Christians of all times are his ambassadors and his missionaries sent to bring the Gospel to the whole world. “And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied them” (Mk 16, 20). Jesus goes to heaven and the disciples are in the world. But the departure of Jesus is not a true absence, but another way to be present “The Lord worked with them and gave foundation to the Word” (Mk 16, 20). “The Ascension is not a cosmic geographic journey, but the navigation of the heart that leads you away from isolating yourself to the love that embraces the universe” (Benedict XVI, 10 March 2010).
The invitation of Christ to embrace the universe, announcing to all men the Gospel “Go into the whole world” (Mk 16: 15), was not perceived as crazy, but as a mandate of charity to bring salvation to all.
With the ascension there is a twist in the path of redemption. From Jerusalem where it was accomplished, the mission of Christ, the redemptive mission, which is now entrusted to the apostles, expands into a universal dimension. The group, hitherto compact, dissolves physically speaking, but not emotionally. While the Redeemer “departs” into the sky, the apostles depart each in a different direction from the geographical point of view, but deeply in communion with one another and with Christ. The popular tradition dictates what would be the goal of everyone: for Peter, Antioch and Rome, for Matthew, Ethiopia, for Thomas, India and so on. But our thoughts go in particular to the apostle on whom we know in great detail, Paul of Tarsus, the tireless traveler who brought the Gospel in today’s Turkey, Greece and Rome. And after him let us also thank the countless missionaries who for twenty centuries, with heroism often expressed by martyrdom, continued and continue the work of the apostles, to share with the largest possible number of people the good, holy, true and pleased life that the Gospel of Jesus has been announcing and implementing for the last two millennia. Like them let us become missionaries of joy, announcing to the world that God is a communion of eternal love, infinite joy that does not remain closed in itself, but expands to those whom He loves and who love him.
It is really a miracle that eleven men were able to develop a “body”, the Mystical Body, in which millions and millions of believers found and find themselves. It is humanly impossible. The explanation lies in the words “The Lord worked with them.” And with a very specific purpose. The compact group, made up of Jesus and the first apostles, has not dissolved, it has spread throughout the world. They were scattered: they are united in faith, love and hope. The hope, in particular, to reconvene in unity, in the presence of the One who came before us at the side of his and our Father.
The verbs used by Christ to send to mission retain their relevance:
– ‘ To go’ indicates the dynamism and the courage to plunge into the always new situations in the world;
– ‘ To proclaim the Gospel’, because people become followers not so much of a doctrine, but of a Person;
– ‘To believe‘ to the announcement of a faith that includes undoubtedly the knowledge of its truth and of the events of salvation, but that mostly comes from a true encounter with God in Jesus Christ and from the love for Him by trusting in Him, so that our entire life is indeed affected.
– ‘To baptize’ indicates the sacrament that transforms people and places in the life of the Trinity and of the Church. Baptism, is the sacrament that gives us the Holy Spirit, making us children of God in Christ, and marks the entry into the community of faith, the Church. We do not believe without the grace of the Holy Spirit; and we do not believe alone, but together with our brothers and sisters. “In Baptism, we are immersed in that inexhaustible source of life that is the death of Jesus, the greatest act of love in all history; and because of that love we can live a new life, no longer at the mercy of evil, sin and death, but in communion with God and with our brothers “(Pope Francis, General Audience, January 8, 2014).
3) The missionary spirit of Virginity.
It is good to reflect on Jesus’ last words, when He sends his disciples to preach in the world that, even if it does seem, has the need of the infinity, truth, love, hope and joy that Heaven is and has.
It is a task that shakes us too, today, so great it is.
It is a task that seems not for poor humans like us, but for angels. This is why Jesus assures His Presence “working with us, confirming His Word with miracles that accompany it” (Mk 16, 20).
It is a task for all the baptized, because through baptism all Christians become disciples and missionaries called to bring the Gospel to the world.
But what is the missionary way of the consecrated Virgins in the world?
It is to be icons, living images of Christ, chaste, poor and obedient (see Vat. II Council, Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis, 1) in front of the ecclesial and human community.
How can they “make a live painting” of Christ?
By a communion with God and with the brothers and sisters in humanity, which is not diminished but increased by the solitude in which they are called to live. The virgins are such and are missionaries if they “use” their emotions and their body as Christ did: not to possess or be possessed, but to give communion to everyone they meet.
In short, the unique vocation of the consecrated Virgins in the world indicates a clear mission: to enhance the dignity of the woman testifying in the life of the world in which they remain immersed, the full meaning of the love that they have received from Jesus Christ to be given to their brothers and sisters in humanity.
Saint Augustine, bishop of Hyppo
Sermo de Ascensio Domini,
Mai 98, 1-2: PLS 2, 494-495
Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.
Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.
Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.
He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.
These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ: he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are the sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.
Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace. Thus, no one but Christ descended and no one but Christ ascended; not because there is no distinction between the head and the body, but because the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.