I ascend to My Father and your Father, to my God and to your God.
The feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ offers us many points for reflection.
First of all, we can admire the paternal solicitude of our Saviour who, after His resurrection, willed to stay among His apostles for 40 days in order to speak to them of the kingdom of God, that is to say, the Church, to instruct them as to how to acquit themselves of their mission, and confirm in their hearts that all-important truth, namely, that it is through many sufferings that we must enter into glory. The repeated apparitions during those days, when the apostles saw the glorified wounds on the sacred body of Our Lord, must have deeply impressed upon their minds and hearts that truth which we see realised so perfectly in the martyrs, that it is by many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of Heaven.
Secondly, the discourse that He addresses to them immediately before ascending, commissioning them to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, assuring them of His hidden presence which would allow them to overcome all evil forces – that is, the demons and their human satellites – , to speak in new tongues – that is, to preach the ever new and saving teaching of the Gospel – , to heal diseases – that is, to restore spiritual health by wiping away the leprosy of sin – in sum, to transform the world by the power of His presence through the Church and its sacraments.
Thirdly, there is the event of the Ascension itself: our Blessed Lord rises into Heaven by His own power. What a spectacle that must have been for the apostles! Before their very eyes, He rises, with His own true body, and is taken up by a cloud, hiding from us the ultimate glorification of the sacred humanity, saving it for our future contemplation in the glory of paradise. No wonder that angels had to intervene and, as it were, to snap the apostles out of their ecstatic gazing up into Heaven. If we are not given a description of His throne of glory beyond the heavens, we are invited to make it the subject of our personal meditation, seeking ever to see the Face of the Beloved Lord who is ever with His Father, and who He affectionately assures us is also our Father.
Fourthly, the words of the angel: this Jesus you have seen rise into Heaven will come back the same way you have seen Him go. The entirety of Church history then is placed between the Ascension of Our Lord and His return on the last day. Each day takes us further from the first and closer to the latter. When will He return? We do not know. It is not for us to know the times and moments that the Eternal Father has determined in His wisdom and power. Our duty is to obey the commands of our Lord, to take full advantage of this time in order to spread the Gospel, so that the greatest possible number of souls may be brought to Him and be saved.
It is appropriate here to remind ourselves of the parable of the talents. The master of the house delivers to each of his servants a certain number of talents, and then goes off on a long journey. When he returns he expects each of them to have made their talents fructify. Our Lord has left this earth, at least as far as His visible presence is concerned, on Ascension Thursday, but He gives to each of us a task to perform, talents to be used for His glory and the salvation of souls. Each day that passes is a day that is forever lost and will never return. The good we can do today cannot be done tomorrow. It is as if we can hear our Lord saying to us: “You are the light of the world. You must illuminate this darkness. Who wants to work with me? Do you want to be My apostles? I need you to realise My plans of love. If you do not come, a work will remain undone, that only you, you alone, can realise. No one else can take on this work, because each has his role to fill. Look at the world. The harvest is already ripe; what hunger, what thirst is there!”
The fact that the hour of His return is unknown is destined to keep us ready, at every moment. Otherwise we would most likely let ourselves fall into spiritual sloth, we would accomplish nothing worthwhile for God, and He would find us asleep in a deadly spiritual torpor.
For each of us, the coming of the Lord will be the moment of our death, for it is at that moment of the dissolution of our body, that our soul will be brought to appear before the judgement seat of Christ and will receive the recompense for all its works, good or evil. This is the reason for which Jesus admonishes us to be ready at every moment, to be prepared for the thief in the night, for He will indeed come at a time when we are occupied with other things.
And so, my dear Friends, on this day of Our Lord’s glorious triumph, let us renew our confidence that He is indeed with us invisibly, and let us renew our courage to be spurred on by that invisible presence to multiply our good works for His kingdom. But more importantly still, let us, as our holy Father St Benedict encouraged us this morning, “desire eternal life with all spiritual longing”. That is indeed the specific grace of the Ascension, to long for God, to long for Heaven, to want to see God face to face, and to have Hope, that is to say the theological virtue by which we know, we are certain, that we will indeed see Him one day soon if we only rely, not on any strength of own, but on His omnipotent power and grace to get us there. Let us, as today’s oration puts it, “dwell in spirit among heavenly things”.