The Ascension and Man’s Supernatural End

May 30th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

This past Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, the day Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives. I was sitting in St. Clement of Rome parish church, attending the first mass offered by Fr. Eric Olson, who had been ordained a priest the previous day, listening to the homily by Monsignor Joseph Pins, and thinking about its implications.

Scenes from the Life of Christ: Ascension

Scenes from the Life of Christ: Ascension
Giotto di Bondone (1304 – 1306)
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

During the homily I was reminded of the following paragraph from “A Free Man’s Worship” by the well-known atheist of the past century, Bertrand Russell:

Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

Broadly speaking, there are three possible answers to the question: Where do we find true happiness? Nowhere, somewhere in this present world, or above this world.

The first answer is nihilism. That seems to be Russell’s position. For Russell, though we may take pleasure in various objects and activities, we must always keep in mind the over-arching meaningless of it all. Russell mistook scientism for science, as though the use of experimental methods that do not detect purpose shows that there is no meaning or purpose, and as though such methods are the only way we can acquire knowledge of the world. However, the meaningfulness of our choices and actions is something we all already know directly and communally, as we perceive a world around us laden with purposiveness. We wrestle with explaining our deep sense of meaning, and being reconciled to it. It would be very odd if we all wrestled with something that we did not know and was not there.

The second answer is some sort of materialism or idolatry, the idea that true happiness can be found in some finite or temporal thing. For such a person life centers around various material or bodily goods, or even fame, glory or power. Usually, however, these goods all have their value in relation to the person himself, as he tries to make himself his own last end.

The third answer is that man has a super-natural end, an end above nature, above and beyond this world, in something infinite and eternal. Aquinas addresses these options in his Treatise on Happiness, which is the first twenty-one questions of the First Part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae, especially Question 2.1

Aristotle and Aquinas argue that because we are by our very nature rational animals, we cannot be satisfied by anything that does not satisfy our rational appetite. A pig may be satisfied by the fulfillment of its bodily appetites, but a man can never be entirely satisfied by the fulfillment of his bodily appetites. All men by nature desire to know, says Aristotle. Our rational appetite is our desire to know and understand, not only in breadth of knowledge, but in depth, pressed onward by that underlying and relentless “Why?” that continually persists at the very center of our being. Questions of meaning and purpose, for Aristotle and Aquinas, cannot be separated from questions about our natural appetites, because satisfaction is the satiation of an appetite or multiple appetites. Hence to know what satisfies man, we must know what is man’s deepest appetite. Our deepest appetite is in our highest power: reason. That deepest appetite is our will, the appetite of reason. It is also referred to as the heart; this is the spirit of a man. Reason by its very nature seeks and ultimately rests only in the First Cause and Final End, as even Aristotle understood. This helps explain why reason is that whereby man is made in the image of God. Man necessarily, by his very nature as a rational animal, can never be perfectly satisfied by anything other than knowing God.2

But God can be known by man in two ways: by way of man’s natural power of reason, or supernaturally, by the infusion of divine grace through which man’s reason is elevated beyond its natural ability. As known by man’s natural power of reason, God is known as Maker or Creator, good and just, all-knowing and all-powerful. That is man’s natural end, to know God as God can be known by the natural power of reason. Achieving that end results in natural happiness, similar to that described in Book X of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. But, by the infusion of divine grace, which is the gift of participating in the divine nature, man is taken higher, higher than man could go by his natural power of reason. By divine grace man is elevated gratuitously into the inner life of the Holy Trinity of divine Persons, and knows God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The perfection of grace is glory. The glorification of man is the entrance into the Beatific Vision. That is man’s supernatural end, a supernatural happiness immeasurably exceeding natural happiness, because this is a participation in the very happiness of God Himself. So both man’s natural end and man’s supernatural end are God, but as known by our rational power, and as known with the aid of divine grace, respectively. Fr. Robert E. Barron S.T.D. explains in this video how by grace the Christian does not merely know God from the outside, but is brought into the inner life, the inner-Personal community, of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Of the three answers to our question, Christ’s Ascension points to the third answer, because when Christ ascended, He did not merely change spatial locations. He is not somewhere in outer space, holding His breath until His return. At His Ascension, He took His human nature, and thus our human nature, into heaven. The natural was elevated to the supernatural. In His Ascension, Jesus showed us our own supernatural end, that our path to true happiness takes us above and beyond this present world. The Beatific Vision is not ultimately the resurrection of the body and the recovery of the four preternatural gifts.3 It is not an endless immortal life in a restored Eden. Heaven is the eternal Trinitarian Life, and entering into heaven is the culmination of what we call theosis. This is scandalous to the mind without grace, but for those with grace, this is the hope of glory.

  1. Whenever I teach ethics, I try to assign at least Questions 1-5, as the jumping off point after Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. []
  2. But in knowing God all other things take their proper place and find their true value. []
  3. Update: On the Beatific Vision see here. []
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  1. This is probably not the right location for this comment…

    If God is the supreme and greatest good, then He is the perfect model and example for our behavior. For example, since God is love, we must strive to love the way God loves. Because God is a Trinity of Persons who love one another, God’s love is not a selfish love (and thus we should not strive for selfish love), but a generous and self-giving love (which is what we should strive for).

    It seems to me that this necessitates God’s dying for man. If there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend, God must manifest that love. If the way God loves is the model for our love, we cannot be expected to sacrifice ourselves for others if God Himself did not do so.

    (Where is this comment appropriate?)

  2. I’ve seen Fr. Barron before on EWTN. He has a natural gift for teaching. A proper understanding of the Trinity and the love that unites the three Persons will necessarily enrich every area of our life, whether it be in prayer, loving and serving the brethren, regarding our neighbor as one for whom Christ died, in the work place, at home, in the Divine Liturgy, in all that we do. For Scripture says, “Do all that you do to the glory of God.” I am learning to grow in the awareness and presence of the Blessed Trinity.

    Jeff, I appreciate your comments, “It seems to me that this necessitates God’s dying for man. If there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend, God must manifest that love. If the way God loves is the model for our love, we cannot be expected to sacrifice ourselves for others if God Himself did not do so.” How can we be a compassionate people, not showing partiality to those within our midst, if we love as the world, or with a self-righteous religiosity?

    It is at this point that I am reminded of my time spent within the Calvinist Camp. The ‘L’ in tulip, Limited Atonement, was one that was hammered into the mindset of all those who considered themselves truly reformed. The ‘L’ was proudly worn and displayed by those who held to the purest and strictest Reformed view. Many evangelical Protestants parted ways with the ‘L’, and thus were not genuine Calvinists, and viewed with a certain amount of condescension and snideness by many. How can one witness the love of Christ and confidently say, “He died for you,” if you don’t believe that? An understanding of God’s love and the love shared within the Trinity will have an effect upon the manner in which we present the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

    Jesus Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross of Calvary was done in love for ALL. I am reminded of the invitation in Revelation, “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”

    I find myself chasing the phantoms of Calvinism out of my brain regularly. :) It came to pass that I could not survive as a Christian there, for it was a cold, hard, and doubtful place that was immensely burdensome. The ability to enjoy the abundant life of Christ all but eluded me.

    In Christ’s Immeasurable Love,

    Darlene

  3. Darlene,

    Please keep posting on this site. It has been very refreshing to read your story. I sympathize with you deeply in that you just wanted Jesus and not this whole big denominational cobweb to sort through.

    I came to faith through young life and had a similar conversion experience to the one you describe. My life was radically transformed. Within weeks I went from being a C- pothead high school kid, to obsessivley reading every Christian book I could find. So the search began. There was never a question that I wanted to spend my whole life in ministry, I just didn’t know where. Over an 8 year period I went Bible Church, charasmatic, to Reformed (PCA). I am in the 2nd half of a seminary program at Reformed Theological in D.C. At some point, however, I began to look to the Catholic Church as an oasis of stability. I would literally daydream of living in an age when Christians only knew one Church. I believe I will become Catholic rather than Orthodox in the end, but only because all the theologians that have brought me thus far have been Catholic. I feel like I owe it to them or something. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for posting.

    Bryan, great article and youtube clip – Thanks.

    In Christ, Jeremy Tate

  4. Jeremy,

    Thanks for your kind words. You said, “I believe I will become Catholic rather than Orthodox in the end, but only because all the theologians that have brought me thus far have been Catholic. I feel like I owe it to them or something.” Actually, I have had far more contact with Catholics than Orthodox. After all, I lingered in Catholic waters for quite some time. :) I understand your feeling of obligation to them; I had that similar feeling toward the kind priest who had been counseling me. He was patient with all my questions and would literally spend several hours at a time talking with me about the Catholic faith. His willingness and desire to pray with and for me during times of internal angst demonstrated to me that he had a servant’s heart.

    In the end, however, I must make my decision for me, not for anyone else even if they should be disappointed. Wrestling with all these theological issues can be quite overwhelming at times.

    May you experience His peace and His presence on this path of new discoveries. May you have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to illumine your understanding.

    In Christ’s Immeasurable Love,

    Darlene

  5. Jeremy,
    Don’t feel like this is a matter of obligation, that you have seen the importance of Tradition from Catholic voices and as such Orthodoxy is not an option. I would encourage you (and everyone) to look into what separates Orthodoxy from Catholicism. From my reading, the testimony of how the early ecumenical councils would point to the primacy of Rome. I say this knowing that several of my friends from my days as an evangelical have gone the Orthodox way to find a connection to the Apostles and their Tradition. I have spoken to some of them for quite some time, and am unshaken on the matter.

    I would definitely commend The Russian Church and the Papacy by Vladimir Soloviev. Also, I would look at the encyclical Lux Veritatis, which comments on the Council of Ephesus (431), where the blessed name of Theotokos was preserved for Our Lady against the heresy of Nestorianism.

    Cyril was advocating the title of Theotokos but initially he did not have the majority of bishops present-in fact, many Nestorians from the area of Palestine were on the way, so Nestorius could argue that an early vote was unfair and he knew it might change the balance in his favor if they waited for everyone to show up. What Cyril did have was a letter from the Pope saying that he was in the right. Since not all legates had shown up, some of the anti-Nestorians wanted to wait. Cyril thought that his letter was adequate, and went forward with a vote which went in favor of the Theotokos, which led some 200 or so bishops hold a council where they denounced Cyril and Rome and all who advocated the use of the Theotokos. Then Rome came.
    When Rome came, they obviously sided with Cyril, which basically turned the tide in favor of Orthodox Christian beliefs.

    One legate from Rome, Philip, said these words which are so beautifully clear in terms of expounding the Catholic view over against conciliarism.

    He wrote:
    “No one doubts, as it was known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, the prince and head of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith, and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, the keys of the kingdom; and the power of binding and loosing sins was given to him; and unto this time, and ever, he lives and exercises judgment in his successors.” (Mansi, I.c. IV. 1295.)

    Pope Pius XI wrote about the council in the encyclical Lux Veritatis, which you can find at this link: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resource.php?n=36

    If you don’t have time to read it all, just read this comment which follows immediately after his citation of Philip, which I had quoted above.

    Pope Pius XI asks this important question:
    “What more need be said? Did the Fathers of the Ecumenical Council make any objection to this manner of acting adopted by Celestine and his Legates, or oppose it in any way? By no manner of means. On the contrary, written monuments remain which plainly show their own dutiful observance and reverence.”

    I am so thankful to God that our unam, sanctam, catholicam, et apostolicam faith has such amazing witnesses.

    Peace be to you all,
    Jonathan

  6. Hey Jonathan,

    My take on the matter has been that many choose Orthodoxy over Rome simply because going Orthodox is not nearly as divisive. I don’t think anti-Orthodox sentiment has ever been as strong as anti-Catholic sentiment in the U.S. In other words, Orthodoxy offers the appeal of Rome without the baggage.

    It might just be ignorant, but I don’t see the Orthodox Church working with the same consistency in terms ecclesiastical authority which has so impressed me with the Catholic Church.
    Thanks, Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  7. Hey Jonathan,

    Let me put this question out there. I think I’ve mentioned that right now I am taking Reformation Church History through RTS. So far, I’ve left every lecture more convinced of the Catholic Church (not what I expected). I have to give Dr. Frank James credit for not bashing the Catholic Church too much.

    Here’s my question; Dr. James has asserted several times the Roman See allowed confusion to develop over the issue of justification by not speaking on the matter in an Authoratative Council for almost a thousand years. His suggestion is that Rome was happy with the status quo which filled up the coffers in Rome through fear of Purgatory. I don’t understand the delay. Why would Rome wait almost thirty years after the start of the Reformation to convene a Council and deal with the matters at hand? This allowed for over a generation of development to occur in the Reformed Churches, which made reunion nearly impossible.

    What do you think? Forget what I said about Orthodoxy, I honestly haven’t taken the time to look into the differences. Peace in Christ, Jeremy Tate

  8. Jeremy,
    All I can say for now is that 30 years is not that slow if you consider the turmoil at hand of the day (Turkish move on Europe), the size of the Catholic Church, the desire to develop a good response, etc. Consider also that before Luther had died, St. Thomas More and others had issued their responses to the Reformation that were not authoritative but were certainly interesting. I would definitely recommend More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies, which you can buy here:
    http://www.amazon.com/Dialogue-Concerning-Heresies-Thomas-More/dp/1594170444
    To say that justification wasn’t discussed for ~1000 years, I’m not following that. Is that from Orange to Trent? What about the Lateran Council?
    Pax Christi,
    Jonathan

  9. You know folks, I realize that papal infallibility and Rome will win out on this blog simply because it is a Roman Catholic blog. :) There are just as many arguments against the RC position on Orthodox blogs, (and Protestant ones for that matter).

    As far as unity goes, if papal rule provides it, then why is there so much havoc and disunity within the RCC, especially in these United States? Why the majority of Catholics voting for the most liberal President in the Senate? Evangelical Protestants were more united in their vote than Catholics, and they don’t have a pope. I think one only need to look at the large liberal wing within Catholicism to realize that there is quite a bit of disharmony within the ranks. Liberalism, relativism, and modernism are common in the large majority of Catholic universities. Where’s all this unity all the Catholic converts point to?

    Jeremy, you said, “many choose Orthodoxy over Rome simply because going Orthodox is not nearly as divisive.” First, where do you get your statistics from to arrive at such a conclusion? Secondly, what exactly do you mean by divisive? If you mean that their Protestant families will give them less flack for becoming Orthodox, I’m not sure how you arrive at this opinion. Such has not been the case for me. I think it would be beneficial for you to read the testimonies of many who have become Orthodox and why they chose it over the Roman Catholic Church. You said, “Orthodoxy offers the appeal of Rome without the baggage.” So, are you saying those who choose to become Orthodox are taking the path of least resistance and acting cowardly because it’s easier and more acceptable to be Orthodox than Catholic? As far as appeal, the more I learned of the Roman Catholic faith, the less appealing it became. The more I learn of Orthodoxy, the more appealing it becomes. Granted, all faith traditions have their skeletons in the closet, those things they would prefer to remain undisclosed and hidden. However, it was the skeletons within the Church of Rome and the egregious nature of some of them, that convinced me not to become Catholic.

    Also, the more I learn of Orthodoxy, the more I discover how different it really is from the Church of Rome. The rejection of the office of the papacy is not the only deciding factor as to why some choose to becomee Orthodox.

    Jeremy, what you see as consistency, I see differently. I look at the RCC as having changed and slowly but surely deviated from the church of the early fathers. When I look at the early church, I see the Ancient Orthodox Church, not the Roman Catholic Church.

    As I have said before, I did not come to these conclusions lightly nor without intense inner struggles and heartache.

    In Christ’s Immeasurable Love,

    Darlene

  10. Darlene,

    I apologize, I have read one book written by an Orthodox Christian in my entire life. Please forgive me for saying that. Clearly you have looked into these issues much more than I have. I am sure my thoughts will evolve as I become more familiar with what divides the two traditions. I’ll try to read more and blog less:)

    What I do mean to say is that my tradition (Reformed) broke away from Catholicism, not Orthodoxy. Protestants are specifically protesting Rome, not Constantinople.

    Thanks again. – Jeremy

  11. As far as unity goes, if papal rule provides it, then why is there so much havoc and disunity within the RCC, especially in these United States? Why the majority of Catholics voting for the most liberal President in the Senate?

    Darlene,

    The pope provides a basis for doctrinal unity; it does not ensure that everyone who checks “Catholic” in a poll will vote for the best candidate available.

    So, are you saying those who choose to become Orthodox are taking the path of least resistance and acting cowardly because it’s easier and more acceptable to be Orthodox than Catholic?

    This is clearly reading too much into Jeremy’s statement and is an emotionally charged response. It’s very clear really: it’s harder to submit to the pope than not to. EO offers the apostolic faith without the papal authority.

    When I look at the early church, I see the Ancient Orthodox Church, not the Roman Catholic Church.

    When one looks at the early Church one sees neither of the two as they exists today. We see a church in seedling form. Change has happened in both East & West and in the early Church – it cannot be stressed enough that the East was more prone to liturgical innovation than the West. ( See Dix, “Shape of the Liturgy” for numerous examples.) This doesn’t mean that the changes weren’t organic but it is worth noting that Rome had a reputation of extreme conservatism. Throughout almost all of the liturgical developments, Rome was almost always the last to adopt them.

    The question is – if that early Church persisted and continued to grow – what would she look like? St. Vincent of Lerins said that the Church would certainly have ‘all possible progress’. The Catholic Church, in union with the See of Peter, has done just that – forging ahead and holding ecumenical councils just as the Church always has. The schism between us is lamentable – but the Catholic Church can and must go right on being ‘Church’ whether the East will be part of that progress or not.

    We look forward to that day when full unity is restored and the East takes her rightful place as the second lung in the Body of Christ.

  12. “You know folks, I realize that papal infallibility and Rome will win out on this blog simply because it is a Roman Catholic blog. :) There are just as many arguments against the RC position on Orthodox blogs, (and Protestant ones for that matter).”

    I’ve been thinking much about this comment, Darlene…. And I’ve got a couple things to humbly offer up for consideration:

    1. The number of arguments for or against a position have nothing to do with the validity of the position in question. This site’s very existence has come about as a result of the fact that a number of people who weren’t Roman Catholic (in some cases these people were far from it!) recognized the truth of the Church’s identity and, in holy submission to Christ, sought full communion with Rome. Regardless of where they came from, or with whom they were associated, they found Rome’s claims to be convincing and were… called to communion.

    2. Yes this is a Roman Catholic blog. But as Peter Kreeft says at the end of his essay entitled Hauled Aboard the Ark, “That is why I am a Catholic: because I am a Christian,” it seems to me the writers here became Catholic out of their allegiance to Christ, not according to their respective biases or denominational pedigree. Indeed, the title of this blog suggests this very thing. These writers were “called to communion.” It almost sounds to me like your comment commits some sort of genetic fallacy… as though we affirm and reject various doctrines according to our respective denominations.

    Ultimately, it seems the question isn’t what issue “wins out” on this blog or that blog. The question is: What’s the truth?

    Are Rome’s claims legitimate or not? Obviously the writers here are convinced of Rome’s claims. But that’s because they, coming from various backgrounds, BECAME convinced of the truth of Catholicism, and are sharing their reasoning with us in the hopes of shedding some light on issues which are too often misunderstood- take papal infallibility, for example…

    Thank you, Darlene. Please accept my humble two cents!

  13. Jeremy wrote:

    “What I do mean to say is that my tradition (Reformed) broke away from Catholicism, not Orthodoxy. Protestants are specifically protesting Rome, not Constantinople.”

    I agree with this statement. When I was an Evangelical Protestant, I must admit I had almost no clue that there even was an Orthodox Church which was closer to the Catholic Church than any other. The choice between Protestantism and Catholicism was always, for better or for worse, between my Evangelical tradition and the Roman Catholic Church.

  14. On April 17, the topic of Pope Francis’s general audience was the Ascension, which we celebrate today on the Feast of the Ascension:

    Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning!

    In the Creed we say that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”. The Jesus’ earthly life culminated with the Ascension, when he passed from this world to the Father and was raised to sit on his right. What does this event mean? How does it affect our life? What does contemplating Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father mean? Let us permit the Evangelist Luke to guide us in this.

    Let us start from the moment when Jesus decided to make his last pilgrimage to Jerusalem. St Luke notes: “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). While he was “going up” to the Holy City, where his own “exodus” from this life was to occur, Jesus already saw the destination, heaven, but he knew well that the way which would lead him to the glory of the Father passed through the Cross, through obedience to the divine design of love for mankind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: “The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven” (n. 662).

    We too should be clear in our Christian life that entering the glory of God demands daily fidelity to his will, even when it demands sacrifice and sometimes requires us to change our plans. The Ascension of Jesus actually happened on the Mount of Olives, close to the place where he had withdrawn to pray before the Passion in order to remain in deep union with the Father: once again we see that prayer gives us the grace to be faithful to God’s plan.

    At the end of his Gospel, St Luke gives a very concise account of the event of the Ascension. Jesus led his disciples “out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:50-53). This is what St Luke says.

    I would like to note two elements in the account. First of all, during the Ascension Jesus made the priestly gesture of blessing, and the disciples certainly expressed their faith with prostration, they knelt with bowed heads, this is a first important point: Jesus is the one eternal High Priest who with his Passion passed through death and the tomb and ascended into heaven. He is with God the Father where he intercedes for ever in our favour (cf. Heb 9:24). As St John says in his First Letter, he is our Advocate: How beautiful it is to hear this! When someone is summoned by the judge or is involved in legal proceedings, the first thing he does is to seek a lawyer to defend him. We have One who always defends us, who defends us from the snares of devil, who defends us from ourselves and from our sins!

    Dear brothers and sisters, we have this Advocate; let us not be afraid to turn to him to ask forgiveness, to ask for a blessing, to ask for mercy! He always pardons us, he is our Advocate: he always defends us! Don’t forget this! The Ascension of Jesus into heaven acquaints us with this deeply consoling reality on our journey : in Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was taken to God. Christ opened the path to us. He is like a roped guide climbing a mountain who, on reaching the summit, pulls us up to him and leads us to God. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Saviour, of our Advocate.

    A second element: St Luke says that having seen Jesus ascending into heaven, the Apostles returned to Jerusalem “with great joy”. This seems to us a little odd. When we are separated from our relatives, from our friends, because of a definitive departure and, especially, death, there is usually a natural sadness in us since we will no longer see their face, no longer hear their voice, or enjoy their love, their presence. The Evangelist instead emphasizes the profound joy of the Apostles.

    But how could this be? Precisely because, with the gaze of faith they understand that although he has been removed from their sight, Jesus stays with them for ever, he does not abandon them and in the glory of the Father supports them, guides them and intercedes for them.

    St Luke too recounts the event of the Ascension — at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles — to emphasize that this event is like the link of the chain that connects Jesus’ earthly life to the life of the Church. Here St Luke also speaks of the cloud that hid Jesus from the sight of the disciples, who stood gazing at him ascending to God (cf. Acts 1:9-10). Then two men in white robes appeared and asked them not to stand there looking up to heaven but to nourish their lives and their witness with the certainty that Jesus will come again in the same way in which they saw him ascending into heaven (cf. Acts 1:10-11). This is the invitation to base our contemplation on Christ’s lordship, to find in him the strength to spread the Gospel and to witness to it in everyday life: contemplation and action, ora et labora, as St Benedict taught, are both necessary in our life as Christians.

    Dear brothers and sisters, 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. We are never alone: 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. Many thanks. (source)

  15. It was fitting, says St. Thomas, for Christ, having at His resurrection entered into immortal and incorruptible life in His human nature, to ascend by His own power to the place of incorruption, which is heaven. Thus heaven is not a place in outer space, elevated in altitude from the surface of the earth. But it would not have been fitting for Christ to have entered heaven by descending into a cave or hole in the ground, for spatial elevation already bears meaning, signifying elevation in goodness and glory. Hence the place for the great glory of the resurrected Christ is the highest heaven, that is, the right hand of the Father. Christ’s Ascension into the clouds conformed therefore to the natural meaning of height and ascent. We are called to this heaven when we are called to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. Christ now prepares a place for us not by physical craftsmanship but by what He does in us and for us, making intercession and granting us graces by His Spirit, so that by this gracious work in us we too might become persons for whom heaven is the fitting place, to be joined eternally with the Father and the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

    Feast of the Ascension, 2017

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