The Feast of the Ascension

What a joyous occasion it is to celebrate the feast of the Ascension.  On this fortieth day of Easter we are, once again, shown the Risen Christ.  Yet it is a different presentation than it was on Easter morn; he now departs from this temporal world, returning to His Father and leaving us here to continue His work.  How then should our hearts react to such events?  Should we be saddened at his departure, longing for His return?  Or, should we be joyous that the Victorious One has vanquished the foe, Death?  The beauty of this feast is in both the longing and the joy.  We ache because we desire to be close to Him and to be where He is.  His promise of preparing a place for us stirs our souls.  But at the same time, that very promise brings forth joy, gushing like a stream of water, because we know that the chasm between God and man, which once was impossible to traverse, has now been bridged by the Cross.  This day also reminds us of the only way in which we can share in the resurrection and the ascension, the Via Crucis.  All must walk along the road to Calvary, taking up their cross. 

Just as Christ died, we too must die to partake in the hope that is to come.  Indeed, the death of the body will eventually come to us all, but the death of our self, and all of its fleshly desires, must happen daily.  We have to conquer the flesh—those desirous impulses which incline us to indulge in sin.  This concupiscence originated in the rebellion of the first Adam (CCC 2515), and the grace to mortify it is in the work of the Last Adam.  

Our voice ought to resound, as St. Paul does in the epistle to the Philippians (3: 8–11), saying that, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.”  St. Paul also states elsewhere (Galatians 2:20) that, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Our hearts must echo these same sentiments, that 1) all that the world has to offer us—its glories, its riches, its honors—are refuse compared to Christ, and that 2) in order to obtain Him, we must do as He did and die.   There is no better place to access the graces of the death and resurrection of Jesus than the Mass, which makes Ascension Thursday so rich in meaning.  Hans Urs von Balthasar in his homily, “The Twofold Farwell” (You Crown the Year with Your Goodness, p. 116), said:    

“Christians too should celebrate the Mass with death in mind, with a view to death and not simply in the wake of it; they should always be moving toward the Cross, not be always simply coming from it; they should be moving toward their own bodily death, the death of all temporal and earthly things, the death of their relations, of their fellow-countrymen, of their civilization, toward the death and end of the earthly Church and of the world in its totality.”

On this Ascension day, we remember the words of our Lord saying, “behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28: 20),  and our hearts stir with the longing and joy of such promises, but we must also remember that the Way of the Cross is our way.  The paradox of losing our life in order to find it is especially poignant as we contemplate the path before us.  “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6: 4).

By T. M. Meyer

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