The Ascension of Our Lord: meditation from Divine Intimacy
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene OCD | 17 May 2023
“O Jesus, who ascended into heaven, grant that I, too, may live there in spirit.”
The central idea in the liturgy on the feast of the Ascension is the raising of our hearts toward heaven, so that we may begin to dwell in spirit where Jesus has gone before us. “Christ’s Ascension” says St Leo, “is our own ascension; our body has the hope of one day being where its glorious Head has preceded it.” (Roman Breviary) In fact, Our Lord had already said in His discourse after the Last Supper, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself; that where I am, you also may be.” (Jn 14:2–3) The Ascension is, then, a feast of joyful hope, a sweet foretaste of heaven. By going before us, Jesus our Head has given us the right to follow Him there some day, and we can even say with St Leo:
“In the person of Christ, we have penetrated the heights of heaven.”Roman Breviary
As in Christ Crucified we die to sin, as in the risen Christ we rise to the life of grace, so too, we are raised up to heaven in the Ascension of Christ. This vital participation in Christ’s mysteries is the essential consequence of our incorporation in Him. He is our Head; we, as His members, are totally dependent upon Him and intimately bound to His destiny. “God, who is rich in mercy,” says St. Paul, “for His exceeding charity wherewith He loved us … hath quickened us together in Christ … and hath raised us up … and hath made us sit together in the heavenly places through Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:4–6) Our right to heaven has been given us, our place is ready; it is for us to live in such a way that we may occupy it some day. Meanwhile, we must actualise the beautiful prayer which the liturgy puts on our lips:
“Grant, O almighty God, that we, too, may dwell in spirit in the heavenly mansions.”Collect
“Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also,” Jesus said one day. (Mt 6:21) If Jesus is really our treasure, our heart cannot be anywhere but near Him in heaven. This is the great hope of the Christian soul, so beautifully expressed in the hymn for Vespers:
“O Jesus, be the hope of our hearts, our joy in sorrow, the sweet fruit of our life.”Roman Breviary
Besides the hope and the joyful expectancy of heaven so characteristic of the Ascension feast, there is a note of melancholy. Before the final departure of Jesus, the Apostles must have been very much disturbed: each felt the distress of one who sees his dearest friend and companion going away forever, and finds himself alone to face all the difficulties of life. The Lord realised their state of mind and consoled them once more, promising the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter: “He commanded them,” we read in the Epistle, “that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father… you shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence.” (Acts 1:1–11) But even this time, the Apostles did not understand! How much they needed to be enlightened and transformed by the Holy Spirit, in order to accomplish the great mission which was to be entrusted to them! Jesus continued: “You shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you and you shall be witnesses unto Me… even to the uttermost part of the earth.” For the moment, however, they were there, around the Master, weak, timid, frightened, like little children watching their mother leave for a distant, unknown land. In fact, “while they looked on, He was raised up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight”, [and] two angels came to distract them from their great amazement and to make them realise what had happened. Then, placing their trust in the word of Jesus, which would henceforth be their only support, they returned to Jerusalem where, in the Cenacle, they awaited in prayer the fulfilment of the promise. It was the first novena in preparation for Pentecost: “As these were persevering with one mind in prayer with … Mary, the Mother of Jesus.” (v. 14)
Silence, recollection, prayer, peace with our brethren, and union with Mary: these are the characteristics of the novena we too should make in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
“O my God, O my Jesus, You are going away and leaving us! Oh! what joy there will be in heaven! But we have to remain here on earth. O eternal Word, what has Your creature done for You, that You should do so much for him and then ascend into heaven to glorify him even more? Tell me, what has he done for You, that You should love him so much? What has he given You? What do You look for in him? You love him so much that You give Yourself to him, You who are all things, and besides whom there is nothing. You want from him his entire will and intellect, because when he gives them to You, he gives You all that he has. O infinite Wisdom, O supreme Good, O Love, O Love so little known, little loved, and possessed by so few! Oh! our ingratitude, cause of every evil! O Purity, so little known and so little desired! O my Spouse, now that You are in heaven, seated at the right hand of the eternal Father, create in me a pure heart and renew a right spirit within me.”St Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi
“Alas! how long this exile is, O Lord, and how the desire to see You makes it seem longer still! O Lord, what can an imprisoned soul do? …I want to please You. Behold me, Lord! If I have to live longer in order to serve You further, I refuse none of the crosses which may await me on earth. But alas, Lord, alas! These are but words; I am capable of nothing else. Permit my desires, at least, to have some value in Your sight, O my God, and do not regard my lack of merit!
“Ah! my works are poor, my God, even if I could perform many! Then why should I remain in this life, so full of misery? Only to do Your will. Could I do anything better than that? Hope, therefore, my soul, hope. Watch carefully, for you know not the day nor the hour. Everything passes quickly, even though your desire makes a short time seem very long. Remember that the more you struggle, the greater the proofs of love you will be giving to your God, and afterwards the more you will enjoy your Beloved in happiness and felicity without end.”St Teresa of Avila, Exclamations of the Soul to God, 15