|by Angela Lambert|
May 8th, 2016; Feast of the Ascension
A reading from Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 (NAB)
In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Jesus spent forty days with the apostles before ascending to Heaven. During that time He proved He wasn’t a hallucination or a ghost. He ate with them, spoke with them, embraced them, and even let Thomas put his finger in the wound mark in His side. Having finished preparing the apostles to lead on earth, Christ ascended to reign in glory by the Father’s right hand in Heaven. The apostles were left staring at the sky wondering what to do next. Christ gave them instructions to wait and promised to send the Holy Spirit who would teach them all they needed and so God could dwell not merely with them as He had been the last few years, but within them. Two angels appear assuring them Christ would return and the apostles then waited in hope and longing.
The twelve experienced a tension every Christian in love with Christ faces. They belonged to two worlds – their hearts remained with Christ but their bodies remained on earth. Christians are not dualists however. Christ remained present in a real and substantial way with His Church and His followers dwell with Him in Heaven even while on this earthly sojourn just in an incomplete way. St. Augustine expressed this beautifully in a sermon that is read today in the Office of Readings:
|“For just as He remained with us even after His ascension, so too we are already in heaven with Him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies. Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but He still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of His body have to bear…Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with Him in heaven even now, through faith, hope, and love that unites us to Him? While in heaven He is also with us; and we while on earth are with Him.” St. Augustine – sermon; office of readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord|
Christ didn’t abandon us when He ascended but rather He enabled Himself to be even closer to us. Through the indwelling of the Trinity, made possible through Baptism by the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, He is no longer limited by space and time as He was when He walked the earth. During His public ministry, Christ often longed to stay at a place and continue His work, but had to move on to bring the Gospel to other. Now, reigning in Heaven and dwelling in His followers, He can be nearer to us than ever. Suffering with us, comforting us, rejoicing with us.
Moreover, St. Paul teaches that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ with Christ as the head and His members as His body. As a result we truly experience the grace and love of the Lord run through our veins and He experiences our joys and sufferings as well. Every member of the body matters and every pain is endured by the whole body. Stub a toe or break even a finger and everything seems to be affected. Moreover, it seems as though when we have pain our brain can barely see past it without intentional effort. Paul knew this reality intimately since Christ personally accused Paul of persecuting Him when he was persecuting the Christians. In the same way, the health of the mind and the health of the body have a positive effect on all the members. Making time to simply eat right, exercise some, get rest, and feed the mind energizes the whole person.
It may feel like a huge chasm between earth and heaven, but the only canyon separating the two is sin. Because of Christ’s Paschal Mystery which merited Redemption for us, every person who seeks Him can find Him and everyone who wishes to remain in Him can do so through membership in His Mystical Body. The sacraments provide a real and substantial connection between heaven and earth, the invisible and the visible, the perfect and the trainees.
Even the smallest separation can be intensely painful however depending upon the degree of love. For instance, the more Teresa of Avila experienced union with Christ, despite having extraordinary gifts of rapture and brief moments of spiritual ecstasy, the more painful it became to endure everyday life without the intimate vision of the Lord. Many saints speak of the same longing and even viewed death as a gift, their marriage to the Lord being fulfilled by crossing the threshold of their home together.
Our union with Christ will be fulfilled in heaven but it begins now. We can be with Him as much as we allow Him to dwell within us and as much as we seek Him out in prayer and Sacraments. Moreover, in this Year of Mercy, we are reminded that “whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto Me.” Mother Teresa sought the Lord she loved in the poorest of the poor. If you miss Christ and want to be near Him, you will find Him dwelling within you and in the poor around you, even those in your own home or workplace.
- In what ways do you experience the beginning of heaven here on earth? (Remember heaven is union with God, joy and peace in His presence, enjoying the fellowship of loved ones…)
- In what ways is heaven still distant?
- Have you ever experienced the bittersweet pain of being physically apart from someone you love for a time? How did that distance deepen your relationship? How did it feel when it was over and you could be together?
- Consider your relationship with Christ in the same way. You can talk, relate, and love each other, but there remains a longing for being together in both body and spirit and being able to see each other.
- Consider how the sacraments provide a real experience of heaven touching earth, of physically being near to the one you love.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Spend time with Christ in prayer each day or at daily Mass.
- Intentionally look for Christ in those around you. Seek His face in the poor (especially the spiritually poor). Do one act of love and kindness toward Christ through one of His members.
- Each day begin by recalling: “This isn’t heaven. I have to wait. But the more Christ dwells in me, the more heavenly this earth will be.”
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016
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