Today’s Sunday in the Easter season is a little different than other Sundays. Although technically it is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, in most dioceses of the United States the Solemnity of the Ascension is actually being celebrated on this Sunday.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has an excellent section on the mystery of the Ascension. In paragraphs 645-663, the Catechism makes a few key points about the mystery of the Ascension. Number one, although most of us might not think that often about the Ascension as much as we ought, it is one of the articles of the Apostle’s Creed: “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” That’s one of the most ancient articles of faith that we have as Catholics.
Second, it is important to recall that the Ascension is a distinct event from the Resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes these can get blurred in people’s minds. It is very important to remember that the Resurrection is the reunification, the reunion, of Jesus’ body and soul into a new glorified state, and that happens on Easter Sunday. However, the Ascension, which takes place 40 days later, is, as the Catechism says, “the irreversible entry of Jesus’ humanity into divine glory.” So it’s a distinct event in terms of time, but also in terms of significance.
And third, the Ascension of Jesus is a bodily event. It’s not just the Ascension of his soul into heaven; it’s the entry of his soul and his body into glory, as the catechism says in paragraph 663, Christ is “seated bodily at the right hand of the Father.”
The mystery of the Ascension of our Blessed Lord is the second glorious mystery of the most holy rosary, so it’s a mystery many of us have grown accustomed to and fond of over the years. So, have we ever pondered over the fact that Our Lord says in today’s Readings: that He will be with us always and then He leaves? What is the reason for it?
I have and found a wonderful explanation from St. Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologica, he gives three reasons. Christ’s Ascension into heaven, whereby He withdrew his bodily presence from us, was more profitable for us that His bodily presence would have been.
First of all, in order to increase our faith… “You shall see Me no longer”:–For “blessed are they that see not, yet believe” (John 16:16; 20:20) So in other words, what St. Thomas is saying is, Christ wanted us to have faith in things that were unseen because it’s a greater faith. So to increase our faith he ascended into heaven where we cannot see him in his bodily presence so that we might receive the blessing of those who believe even though we don’t see.
The second reason, St. Thomas says: Secondly, to uplift our hope, “If I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and take you to Myself, that where I am, there you also may be” (John 14:3). For by placing in heaven the human nature which He assumed, Christ gave us the hope of going there…
Pause there, that is a really important point because the ascension is a bodily event. Jesus takes his human nature, his glorified body, up into the very life of the Trinity, into the realm of the divine, into the invisible realm of bliss that is heaven itself. Why? Because he wanted to show to us that that is our destiny, that is our hope. Our hope is not just to be revivified or resuscitated in this world, this valley of tears, our hope is to be resurrected and then to be with Christ forever in our bodies in the glorious life of the Trinity, with the beatific vision of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So in order to show us our destiny and give us hope, Christ doesn’t stay here. He goes back to his Father’s house to prepare a place for us so that he can come and take us to be with him there forever.
Thirdly, St. Thomas says: Thirdly, in order to direct the fervor of our charity to heavenly things… “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1-2).2
In other words, God knows that it’s easy for us to fall in love with earthly things, to fall in love with the things of this world and to think that we were made for this world, to try to find our happiness in finite things that are passing. And every time we try to do it what happens? We end up not happy because we are trying to seek infinite happiness from some finite thing, to seek an unending happiness in the passing things of this world. So in order to increase our love for heavenly things, Christ goes into heaven so that we can now fix our minds and our hearts on heaven, on the life of the Trinity. Because as Jesus said in the Gospels, “store up your treasure in heaven…where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” So he goes into heaven and then St. Thomas goes on to say that “from heaven he then sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts so that our hearts might fall in love with Christ who is now seated in glory, so that our hope might be in that and that our faith might be in that.” In other words, why does Jesus ascend into heaven? To increase our faith, our hope and our love, and to rightly order those to our eternal destiny and to him. So it’s a powerful, powerful explanation and an answer for the mystery of the Ascension.
As we will see next week when we are looking at the mystery of Pentecost, there is one final reason Jesus Ascended into Heaven: Jesus says “if I don’t go, then I can’t send the Holy Spirit. But if I go, I am going to send the Holy Spirit and He is going to now dwell with you. I’m not going to leave you orphaned.” So, this is a consoling truth of the fact that Jesus doesn’t abandon us in the Ascension, because He is not only going to stay with us in the Most Holy Eucharist, but He is also going to be with us in a powerful way through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which we can reflect upon at length during this week and the next.
Al comenzar con las lecturas del sexto domingo de Pascua, nuestro enfoque empieza a cambiar desde una concentración de Jesús, nuestro Salvador resucitado, al don que Él y el Padre nos han dado, el don del Espíritu Santo. En la próxima semana, celebraremos la Ascensión del Señor, el regreso de Jesús al Padre Celestial, que Él mismo dijo que era necesario y bueno para nosotros, porque de lo contrario no podría darnos al Espíritu Santo, nuestro Consolador. Luego, la semana siguiente celebraremos la fiesta del Espíritu Santo, Pentecostés. Entonces, hoy, comenzamos una especie de Adviento de dos semanas, en el que nos preparamos para la Celebración de la Tercera Persona de la Santísima Trinidad y su papel esencial en nuestras vidas cristianas.
En el Evangelio de hoy, Jesús promete que le pedirá al Padre que nos envíe el Espíritu de la Verdad para estar siempre con nosotros. Dios Padre escuchó esa oración. Él lo envía a cada católico de una manera especial en su confirmación, cuando el obispo nos unge con un crisma sagrado y dice “sé sellado con el don del Espíritu Santo”. Y lo envía nuevamente para llenarnos durante cada celebración del Santo Sacrificio de la Misa, cuando el sacerdote reza eficazmente a Dios Padre: “Concede que nosotros, que somos nutridos por el cuerpo y la sangre del Señor, podamos estar llenos de Su Espíritu Santo”. Este Espíritu Santo permanece en nosotros mientras permanezcamos en el estado de Gracia Santificante. Es Él quien nos ayuda a venerar al Señor en nuestros corazones, como escribe San Pedro en la segunda lectura. Es Él quien nos ayuda a clamar a Dios con alegría, como lo hicimos en el salmo responsorial.
Jesús llama al Espíritu Santo, el Consolador. Dios, el Padre de todos los consuelos, nos ha dado el Espíritu Santo para consolarnos en cada prueba o dificultad. En esta preparación para Pentecostés que comenzamos hoy, debemos orar a Dios para que podamos ir cada vez más al Espíritu Santo para nuestro consuelo. El Espíritu Santo nos ayudará a cambiar nuestras vidas si se lo pedimos, y nos dará ese consuelo que nada nos puede quitar. También nos inspirará a consolar a otros, muchos de los cuales, en su sufrimiento físico y espiritual, necesitan desesperadamente ese consuelo que solo puede venir de Dios. A menudo Dios quiere darles ese consuelo que necesitan a través de nosotros.
Jesús se hizo carne en el vientre de la Santísima Virgen cuando el Espíritu Santo la eclipsó. Lo que está por suceder es quizás un milagro aún mayor, cuando, por el poder del Espíritu Santo, Jesús tomará forma de carne nuevamente de lo que antes era simple pan y vino. Oremos para que, nutridos al recibir espiritualmente a Nuestro Bendito Señor durante esta Santísima Eucaristía que estoy celebrando con cada uno de ustedes espiritualmente presente, estemos hechos templos apropiados del Espíritu Santo, aptos para recibir a Jesús y venerarlo en nuestros corazones ahora y para siempre. Amén.