Benedict: The presence of the cloud that "took him out of their sight", recalls a very ancient image of Old Testament theology and integrates the account of the Ascension into the history of God with Israel, from the cloud of Sinai and above the tent of the Covenant in the desert, to the luminous cloud on the mountain of the Transfiguration.
Pope Benedict notes, “The verb "to lift up" was originally used in the Old Testament and refers to royal enthronement. Thus Christ's Ascension means in the first place the enthronement of the Crucified and Risen Son of Man, the manifestation of God's kingship over the world.”
Pope Benedict XVI emeritus once wrote, “The meaning of Christ’s Ascension, expresses our belief that in Christ the humanity that we all share has entered into the inner life of God in a new and previously unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God.” “He took the human person with Him into the intimacy of the Father and thus revealed the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage.”
He continues: It would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as “the temporary absence of Christ from the world” … Rather, “we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into Him.”
Heaven is union with a PERSON… “Jesus Himself is what we call ‘heaven”! He is God.
The Ascension is a promise not a departure … a promise that we are destined, to dwell with and in …God. As Pope Benedict alludes to in my opening reflection on the meaning of the Ascension, we ‘go to heaven’ whenever we ascend to God in prayer -- turning to the divine presence of the Holy Trinity within us. St. John of the Cross in his spiritual writings calls this the ascent of Mount Carmel, that is our ascent to God within our souls.
Benedict: “The Ascension tells us that in Christ our humanity is brought to the heights of God; thus, every time we pray, earth is united to Heaven.” Christ has truly bridged the gap between God and man by ascending from earth to heaven! He is our mediator – true God and man, truly “descending” by taking on our humanity and “ascending”, transforming us and elevating us to a divine, supernatural life, which begins even now through grace – the seed of glory. Benedict notes in Spe Salvi that our hope to attain heaven – union with God … is something we already possess now through grace! The Father Son and Spirit dwelling with in us. We await this coming at Pentecost.
Jesus instructed the Apostles immediately before he Ascended to heaven, saying: “you will receive power when Holy Spirit comes upon you”. Christ ascended so He could send the Holy Spirit: The Apostles were instructed to wait for the Holy Spirit, whom we have received “power” in the grace of baptism confirmation and Eucharist.
Christ has Ascended to heaven … we should not grieve … He has not left us … the only thing better than Christ staying “with” us… is for Him to return to be “in” us through the Holy Spirit! … and this happens every time we receive grace, especially in Eucharist and reconciliation, prayer and in service. To what end? Jesus tells his followers: “you will receive power” and “you will be my witnesses”.
The sending of the Holy Spirit is the sending of the Trinity into our hearts and this unlocks the secret to OUR ascension with and in Christ! To be transformed into adopted sons and daughters – a supernatural life in God and to be witnesses to Christ in our daily lives.
We ascend to heaven when we descend in humility like Jesus and Mary … to do the will of the Father. Before Christ was lifted up to heaven in His glorious ascension, he had to be lifted up in the humiliation and suffering of the cross! Thus our call right now is to take up our cross in obedience, humility and love/truth so we might be lifted up to heaven with Christ when our time comes. There is no resurrection without the cross, there is no ascension without the descent in humility, acknowledging our sin and need for God and following Christ to calvary, witnessing in every moment of our lives… in order to follow Him to heavenly glory.
But for us to ascend to heaven, that is, experience God in our souls …. we must MAKE TIME for God in our lives! In daily prayer, exhortation and witness in our families, how we make decisions, how we deal with trials and sufferings, how we make use of our financial resources, how we use the talents and gifts given us. Do we pray together as a family? Is God central to your life in concrete ways that can be observed daily?
Where the heart is there also is your treasure. We experience the joy and exaltation of the Ascension in our souls only if we commit to daily conversion and making acts of faith, invoking the Holy Spirit to come to our aid, for we do not know how to pray as we ought – but the Holy Spirit prays in us with inexpressible groanings.. we long to ascend to Christ.
Our ascension to heaven has already begun and continues now. Are we moving toward heaven or hovering at a standstill, in a lukewarm faith? Are we clinging to earthly cares and allowing them to dominate your thinking, your time, your heart – or are we ascending, rising above the earth with Christ, being in but not of the world, detaching from worldly things that replace God in our lives? Have you said “yes” to God in words but action?
No matter what your life is like right now, success, failure, family stress, personal addiction to sin, employment frustrations, anxiety and fear about the future – the answer is to ascend to Christ who is within you, the heaven of your immortal soul! If you can say you are striving to be holy, a saint, which is to say doing and accepting all for God and imitating Christ’s life of prayer, service and sacrificial love …then you are indeed successful in your life (not as the world judges success) and you have accomplished everything.
Our Lord desires faithfulness – which is to be His witness, not worldly success. For, in Christ, faithfulness itself is success in God’s eyes. Our confidence is not in self but in God! Let us turn to Jesus, who has given us hope through His Ascension… and the Holy Spirit to lift us up with Him. And experience the glory of the ascension here and now – which is none other than the rapturing merciful love of the Holy Trinity in the heaven of your soul. Peace+ DDG