Our Life’s Compass
The Ascension of the Lord. fr Joseph Bailham preaches on the meaning of today’s celebration.
The Ascension is one of the most ancient feasts in the Church, and yet probably is not one that many have any attachment or devotion to. Sandwiched between the Resurrection of Our Lord and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, it can get a bit forgotten. This is lamentable because the Ascension is not some magic disappearing act, a trick to entertain or something superfluous to anyone beyond Christ himself; rather it is for us in a sense the beginning of heaven.
Of course, though we often use the language of place, heaven is not a place as such, but a particular kind of reality or state, namely, ‘everlasting life in which we see God face to face, are made like unto Him in glory, and enjoy eternal happiness’ (Baltimore Catechism, 1395); or as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, heaven is perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity (cf. CCC, 1024). This state of existence we call heaven—that state of perfect communion of love and life with the Trinity—is not something humanity can give to itself for it’s not its to give. However, by the death and Resurrection of Our Lord, this reality is opened to us human beings. Christ is victorious over death and a new creation is begun.
If in the resurrection of Our Lord we see victory—not only for Christ personally, but for all humanity whose nature the Word of God came to share in Christ—then in the Ascension we see in a sense a sort of homecoming; ‘sort of’ because in the more typical understanding of the word ‘homecoming,’ it means a returning home. But in the Ascension, humanity is brought into a very new state of existence.
Humanity has indeed returned home to a state of friendship with its Creator once enjoyed before the Fall, but now enjoys a friendship with God in a way that far exceeds anything that ever was. Through Christ’s own ascended humanity, human nature is now definitively united to the Godhead. What a dignity bestowed on human nature!
In the Ascension of Our Lord, we find our life’s compass: we now see to where we can and should go. Our Lady through her Assumption body and soul into glory has followed Christ and testifies to this new reality of life that awaits us. As the Collect for this feast says: ‘we pray that in accordance with his promise, we may be worthy for him to live with us always on earth, and we with him in heaven.’ This state of life, which we hope in the future to come to share in fully, is not something disconnected from our present. We can encounter heaven here and now through grace, most especially through the Eucharist in which we encounter Christ risen and ascended. In the reception of this Sacrament, we partake of that communion of love and life of the Trinity which we will one day, God willing, with all the angels and saints, enjoy without change or end.
Readings: Acts 1:1-11 | Ephesians 4:1-13 | Mark 16:15-20