Christ Ascension, icon from Michurin, Bulgaria, 16 century.
Burgas Art Gallery
What does the Ascension of the Lord mean? What concrete consequences does it have for our lives? On April 17 Pope Francis dedicated his audience to the article of the Creed on the Ascension of the Lord: "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the Right Hand of the Father".
The Ascension of the Lord
First the Pope sets up the Ascension of the Lord. Jesus ascends to heaven through the cross (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 662). “We too –notes the Pope - should be clear in our Christian life that entering the glory of God demands daily fidelity to his will, even when it demands sacrifice and sometimes requires us to change our plans.”
The Cross can be addressed with prayer. In fact, the Ascension took place from the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus had retired to pray before the Passion. “Once again we see that prayer gives us the grace to be faithful to God’s plan”.
Christ ascends to Heaven also as our eternal priest and lawyer. With a priestly gesture he blesses his disciples who kneel bowing their heads. And from the right hand of the Father, he continues to exercise his priesthood, interceding for us. It is our lawyer that defends us from the wiles of the devil, of ourselves and of our sins.
In short, Jesus has gone ahead: “Christ opened the path to us. He is like a roped guide climbing a mountain who, on reaching the summit, pulls us up to him and leads us to God”.
Why the joy after the Ascension? Because our Head is now in Heaven
Secondly, the Pope emphasizes the joy of the disciples after the Ascension. “When we are separated from our relatives, from our friends, because of a definitive departure and, especially, death, there is usually a natural sadness in us since we will no longer see their face, no longer hear their voice, or enjoy their love, their presence”. Instead the evangelist emphasizes the profound joy of the Apostles. “How can this be?” asks Pope Francis.
And he answers: “Precisely because, with the gaze of faith they understand that although he has been removed from their sight, Jesus stays with them for ever, he does not abandon them and in the glory of the Father supports them, guides them and intercedes for them” (Let us note that it is the same argument used by Benedict XVI at the conclusion of his book Jesus of Nazareth, vol. II).
With all the Christian religious tradition, the Pope emphasizes that St. Luke places the event of the Ascension at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. And so the Ascension is presented as “the link of the chain that connects Jesus’ earthly life to the life of the Church”. Indeed, because the Church is nothing but the mystical body still here living off his head, which is now in heaven.
Two men dressed in white encourage the disciples not to stand still looking at the sky, but to live by giving testimony to Jesus. Here Pope Francis sees, quoting St. Bernard, the union between contemplation and action, both as necessary in our life.
Finally he highlights how the Ascension permits our Lord to live continually among us in a new way: “He is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each one of us”.
We are never alone: the family of God
Hence the concrete and personal consequence: “We are never alone: the Crucified and Risen Lord guides us. We have with us a multitude of brothers and sisters who, in silence and concealment, in their family life and at work, in their problems and hardships, in their joys and hopes, live faith daily and together with us bring the world the lordship of God’s love, in the Risen Jesus Christ, ascended into Heaven, our own Advocate who pleads for us”.
So, for his Ascension, Jesus is forever our priest and advocate with the Father, the guide of our lives and head of this family of God which is the Church in the world. We Christians are never alone and we should not abandon the others, because this life with God, which starts down here on earth, gives us the true brotherhood and renews the world, and is freely and graciously offered to all. The Ascension sows the seeds of maximum solidarity.
(first version published in www.cope.es, April 30th, 2013)