Preparing a Place for Us

Preparing a Place for Us

While our Lord’s Ascension reveals his transcendence, it also reveals to us his immanence. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.


Reading: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20

The following homily was preached to the student brothers during Compline. You can listen here or read below:

In one of the famous, post-resurrection stories that I’m sure we all know, Mary Magdalene meets Jesus – first mistaking him for the gardener, and then he reveals himself to her. He continues and says something very curious – he says, “Do not touch me; for I have not yet gone to my Father.” Now, there are many ways to understand this, but perhaps we can take the cue from the church fathers who see in this response a call for Mary to look at him not as she used to look at him but to look at him in a new way – to question how well she knew him and to seek that deeper wisdom which is himself.

We can’t blame Mary for not knowing him. After all, none of us knows God, yet we can see that there is a link between this call to question how well we know Jesus and what we celebrate today in the Ascension – where he is taken up and away from us, from our normal day-to-day doings. In one sense, we don’t quite understand how to think of him now that he is not there. He is not before us; we do not live with him in the same way, so how is it that we can have a relationship with this God, love this God – this God and man?

When Jesus is raised up into heaven and seated at the right hand of the father, yes, he teaches us that we can’t think of his new life in terms of the life he lived before; it is something totally different; we need to change our understanding. But, in being lifted up to the Father, he directly causes the salvation of each and every one of us. Should we be saved, our being raised to the Father will have been caused by his ascending, and so we have hope – we have cause for hope that we might begin to understand a little bit of what Jesus means for us and how we might love him.

In the Last Supper discourses, he promises the apostles that, after they stop seeing him “for a little while,” he will send the Advocate and that the Advocate will come and bring them to all truth. It is this that is the key for us tonight. When Jesus goes to the Father, both Father and Son breathe out Spirit onto the world, onto us, his church, and, in filling us with himself, the Spirit fills us also with father and son because all three are one. This is why Jesus says, “If you obey my Commandments, love me, and love the Father, we shall come to you and make our dwelling with you.” Jesus does not command us not to touch him, as he initially did Mary. We hear his new command often at Mass, “Take and eat.” In these words of consecration, Jesus is telling us how to approach him, how to touch him.

Although he is gone to the Father, there is this mystery: the distance of our ascended Lord from us is not distance as we understand it. That which is most Transcendent is most immanent; that which is in some ways furthest from us – our understandings, our ways of doing things – is closer to us than we are to ourselves, as St Augustine says. We have such a great intimacy with the Spirit. Isaac of Nineveh, about whom we recently heard a lecture – I forget how long ago – but he speaks about this intimacy as a spaciousness which is opened in the soul, the origin of which he does not know. Wherever it came, it certainly is not from himself. Isaac realizes that his heart is rejoicing but he does not understand why. Dostoevsky, in the character of Zosima, speaks in a similar way. He says, “Life is Paradise, if only we were to wish to understand it as so.” St Therese of Lisieux, when she’s on her sick bed and suffering tremendously, says to her sisters, “I do not know what I will have in heaven that I do not have on Earth. True, I’ll see God; but, with regard to being in his presence, I am totally there now.” St John of the Cross explains this by describing Faith as the Face-to-Face in darkness.

God is not ‘out there’. What we are ultimately hoping for is not a far distance from where we are now. God is there in us, intimately so. We need only turn to him with the simplest of movements, and we would be with him. We have strength to do this in prayer or in front of the Blessed Sacrament because of Christ’s Humanity. The very fact that his humanity is in heaven with the Father is itself a prayer of intercession for us. The reason why his humanity is in heaven is because that is what our Humanity has become – that is the proper place for us. We are not meant for this world anymore. We have been given the seeds of eternal life, the seeds of a Heavenly life which far transcends anything that we could ever dream of. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard; nor has it so much as entered into the heart of man.

With this enlightened heart, therefore, which has helped us to see something of the hope to which we have been called, we rejoice because we love our Lord – because he has gone to the Father and says to us that he has gone to his father and to our father, his God and our God.


Image: Christi Himmelfahrt (c. 1440) – from a panel of the former high altar of the Holy Cross Minster in Rottweil, Germany – by an unknown Gothic painter referred to as ‘Meister des Rottweiler Hochaltars‘. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Br John Peter was raised in the Central Valley of California, son to Catholic parents who both, not inconsequentially, studied with the Dominican Order in Berkeley. Motivated by conversation with friends of diverse Christian persuasions, he delved more deeply into his faith in secondary school and continued to do so at Thomas Aquinas College from which he took a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. During college, he experienced a call to the religious priesthood which he saw fulfilled in the Dominican way of life. He is a solemnly professed friar of the Western Dominican Province of North America and is in England for a year of study.

Comments (1)

  • Susan Bateman

    thank you so much – a wonderful , thoughtful sermon


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