In today’s Gospel we hear Our Beloved Saviour tell His apostles that His imminent departure is “expedient” for them. The expression means that it is in their interest, for their good, that He is going to disappear from their physical vision. His words to St Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday morning relay the same message: “Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father”. The Ascension of Our Lord is therefore necessary. It is so for Christ, for He must be glorified. That’s easy to understand. But it is also necessary for us. That’s not so easy to understand.
To do so, it is helpful to be reminded of the sublime dignity of our calling. Amazingly, and undeservedly on our part, God has destined us to nothing less than the vision of His glory in Heaven, the face to face realisation of His plan of love: to give us part in the very life of the Blessed Trinity. We certainly do not spend enough time contemplating this reality and what it entails for us. Heaven is not some sort of unending holiday on a gorgeous beach with nice people and delicious food. That is so far off the mark that it doesn’t even give a faint idea of what Heaven really is. Seeing God face to face means being taken up into the life of God Himself; it means becoming a partaker of the Divine Nature, as St Peter tells the first generation of Christians (cf. 2 Pt 1:4).
This eternal destiny is so far removed from anything we can experience that it can only be accepted on faith. God has revealed it, and therefore it is true. But the grandeur of the vocation should help us understand the “expedience” of Christ’s removing Himself from our gaze. Such a lofty calling is a reward for faith and for confidence, and such can only be real if we do not see the object of our faith. Christ’s no longer being present to our gaze is necessary so that we can merit eternal life. It is in that sense that His absence, His disappearance, is expedient for us, it is good for us. It forces us, as it were, to take the plunge into the mystery of His love for us, with utter confidence that He knows what’s best and that beyond the present trials and darkness, there is the eternal kingdom of light that awaits those who give their lives to Him.
His going away is also going to bring to us another inestimable gift, the Person that is Gift, the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit living in us, who gives us to take part in the Divine Life already in this world, and who leads us through the difficult stages of our earthly pilgrimage, constantly arousing us to deepen our faith and love and to trust in the Eternal and Infinite Mercy of God. The Mercy of God transforms the misery of our nature; it is an unlimited source of renewal for creatures who are broken by sin and many failings. The Holy Spirit, who is the forgiveness of sins makes it always possible for us to rise from the ashes of a broken life to the beauty and integrity of a truly Christian life, a life of virtue and holiness.
Believe that with all your heart, and then you will understand why it is expedient for us that the Saviour return to the Father. From there, He draws us to Himself and awaits us with open arms.