|Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, alleluia!|
Et Dominus in voce tubae, alleluia!
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” We heard this over 40 days ago on Good Friday, when Christ hanging from the Cross called out to His Father in crushing despair. But perhaps we all feel this in our own hearts when we hear that Christ has ascended into heaven. If God so loved us, and if Christ is the means of that love, then why would he seemingly abandon His own to go to Heaven now? Why can’t He stay and prove to all the truth of the Catholic faith?
Christ ascends into Heaven because “He also descended into the lower regions of the earth” as Saint Paul tells us in the Letter to the Ephesians. In the depths of His suffering, Christ died and entered into the underworld, the lowest point in the spiritual spheres at which man resides, the farthest point one could be spiritually from God. He enters into the underworld so as to liberate those souls who have not been able to enter into heaven but have passed from this world. Christ proclaims to them the message of salvation and eternal life which is won for us and for them in His paschal mystery, and so leads them out to the heights which are now theirs and are also ours. Since He has conquered the depths and valleys, Christ now ascends on high to His throne overseeing all in His watchful care.
Saint Paul continues, “The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” and this presents to us our second reason for the Ascension. Christ ascends so that we might be filled. But with what are we to be filled? We are to be filled with the virtues, the habits that lead us towards sanctity. We are to be faithful, believing in all that Christ did and proclaimed and which has been handed on to us by the Church, holding fast to our faith in those things which are unseen but still hold true. We are to hope for the grace and mercy of God which aids us in fulfilling God’s will for us, our sanctification. And we increase in love of God who dwells in Heaven, not on earth. All of this could not be accomplished if Christ remained here on earth. We would have no faith, no hope, no real love in God.
Finally, Christ ascends into Heaven so as to remind us that the full maturity of this world has not arrived yet. What do I mean by that? When Christ was resurrected, He did not return to life only to die once more, as happened to those whom He raised from the dead. Christ rose unto the immortal glory which all the saints now and in the future will achieve at the end of time. He shows us how we shall be when the fullness of time has been reached and the world as we know it comes to an end. After that terrible day, there will emerge a new heavens and a new earth, as we see in the book of Revelation. On that day, there shall be no death, no sorrow, no loss, no corruption, nothing that results from sin. All that shall be left is perfection, joy, beatitude, bliss.
But until that time, we must wait, and He cannot remain. Yet His ascension contains a promise. The angels tell us that “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” That dreadful but long expected day will come, and Christ will return in His full glory to bestow upon those who are worthy the reward of sharing in that maturity, in the full stature of Christ resurrected unto eternal life. For now, we must wait, we must pray and we must carry on, doing what He tells us to do in our Gospel today, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
Let us rejoice that Christ goes forth to intercede for us with the Heavenly Father, mounting His throne to our shouts of joy. Let us not feel abandoned by Christ, but mindful that He goes to prepare a place for us when our own lives on this earth are complete. But let us work to earn that place in our own way, fulfilling His will for us by abandoning sin and proclaiming the Gospel of joy to every creature by our words and our lives. Let us finally beseech God for the fresh gift of the Holy Spirit, the promised Advocate whose descent we will celebrate next week: that we may be stirred anew by that same Spirit to desire to ascend in mind if not in body towards the heavenly realities, living our lives oriented towards the splendid glory of eternal life.