The Ascension of Our Lord
Once more the liturgy reminds us of the final moment in Jesus’ life among men, his ascension into heaven. Many things have happened since our Lord was born in Bethlehem. We have thought of him in the manger, worshipped by the shepherds and the Magi; we have contemplated those long years of unpretentious work in Nazareth; we have gone with him all through the land of Palestine, as he preached the kingdom of God to men and went about doing good to all. And later on, during the days of his passion, we have suffered on seeing him accused and ill-treated and crucified.
Then, sorrow gave way to the joy and light of the resurrection. What a clear and firm foundation for our faith! But perhaps, like the Apostles in those days, we are still weak, and on the day of the ascension we ask Christ: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” Is it now that we can expect all our perplexity and all our weakness to vanish forever?
Our Lord answers by going up to heaven. Like the Apostles, we remain partly perplexed and partly saddened at his departure. It is not easy, in fact, to get accustomed to the physical absence of Jesus. I am moved when I think that, in an excess of love, he has remained with us, even when he has gone away. He has gone to heaven and, at the same time, he gives himself to us as our nourishment in the sacred host. Still, we miss his human speech, his way of acting, of looking, of smiling, of doing good. We would like to go back and regard him closely again, as he sits down at the edge of the well, tired from his journey; as he weeps for Lazarus; as he prays for a long time; as he feels pity for the crowd.
It has always seemed logical to me that the most holy humanity of Christ should ascend to the glory of the Father. The ascension has always made me very happy. But I think that the sadness that is particular to the day of the ascension is also a proof of the love that we feel for Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is God made man, perfect man, with flesh like ours, with blood like ours in his veins. Yet he leaves us and goes up to heaven. How can we help but miss his presence?
CHRIST IN THE BREAD AND IN THE WORD
If we have learned to contemplate the mystery of Christ, if we make an effort to see him clearly, we will realize that now we can come very near Jesus too, in body and soul. Christ has pointed out the way to us clearly. We can be with him in the bread and in the word, receiving the nourishment of the Eucharist and knowing and fulfilling all that he came to teach us, as we meet and deal with him in our prayer. “He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him.” “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. But he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
These are not mere promises. They are something real, the essence of a true life, the life of grace that leads us to deal with God personally and directly. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, as I also have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” These words that Jesus said at the last supper are the best introduction to the day of the ascension. Christ knew that he had to go away, because, in a mysterious way that we cannot fully understand, after the ascension, a new outpouring of God’s love would bring the presence of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. “I speak the truth to you: it is expedient for you that I depart. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Jesus has gone away. He sends us the Holy Spirit, who directs and sanctifies our souls. The action of the Paraclete within us confirms what Christ had announced — that we are children of God, that we “have not received a spirit of bondage so as to be again in fear, but… a spirit of adoption as sons, by virtue of which we cry: Abba! Father!”
You see? This is the action of the Blessed Trinity in our souls. A Christian always has access to God, who dwells in the innermost part of his being, if he corresponds to the grace that leads us to become one with Christ, in the bread and in the word, in the sacred host and in prayer. On two other occasions in the liturgical year — Holy Thursday and Corpus Christi — the Church sets aside important feast days to commemorate the reality of this living bread, which we are reminded of every day. On this feast of the ascension, let us turn our mind to conversation with our Lord. Let us attentively listen to his word.
“The Ascension of Our Lord” is an excerpt from the homily given by St Josemaria Escriva on May 19, 1966. The homily is published by Scepter Publishers in the book Christ is Passing By. Reproduced here with permission. The content is intended for the free use of readers, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from ©The Studium Foundation (www.escrivaworks.org).
St. Josemaria Escriva, priest and founder of Opus Dei, was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and declared the “saint of the ordinary” for his example and teachings on the value of work and daily life as the path to holiness in the middle of the world.