Kristi Himmelfärds dag 2015/The Solemnity of the Ascension

Predikan av/Homily by Dom Benedict Hardy OSB.

According to the Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion, the Ascension is in a certain sense the greatest of all the feasts of the Lord, for in it we celebrate the supreme glorification of Christ Jesus (Christ in his Mysteries).

Glorify me, Father, Jesus prayed at the Last Supper, with the Glory I had with you before the world was made (Jn 17:5)

At the Ascension, the man Jesus took possession forever of this glory, the glory that belongs to the eternal Son of God. He possesses this glory by right of inheritance, for as he said: I came forth from the Father, and came into the world; and now I am leaving the world and returning to the Father (Jn 16:28). But he possesses his heavenly glory also as the reward of merit. For he willingly descended “right down to the lower regions of the earth” as today’s second reading puts it (Eph 4:9). He descended in humility and obedience into the depths of our darkness, in order to take on himself and to redeem the condition of sinful, fallen humanity. Therefore, as St. Paul famously sings, God has highly exalted him, and given him the name which is above all names (Phil 2:9). Therefore, Paul continues to the Ephesians, he ascended to the heights. There he destroyed our captivity to sin and death; there he drew us with him as spoils of war to heaven. There he gave gifts to men, supremely among them all the gift of all gifts: the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate both a historical event, and a truth of our faith. The historical event itself was mysterious; an experience rather like the Transfiguration, scarcely to be accurately described. 40 days after the Resurrection, the time of the repeated appearances of Jesus to his disciples had come to an end. Now, as they were gathered together for one last time in his presence, he was taken from their sight. But this removal was no sad farewell, nor was it a change in Jesus himself.

It was not a change in Jesus himself, for his ascension into heaven, and his sitting down in glory at the right hand of the Father, must be regarded as intrinsically connected to his resurrection from the dead.

It was no sad farewell, for it was the prelude to and necessary condition for the sending of the Holy Spirit. Henceforth Jesus would be with his disciples, with his Church, more surely, more consistently than ever; and they, she, would henceforth be with him, only now meritoriously through the exercise of faith, hope and charity.

Men of Galilee, cried the Angels of the Ascension, why do you stand staring into the sky? He has not left you: he is with you, he is in you; and you are with him, and in him. Now you must love him not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. Now you truly begin to live by faith rather than by sight. There is no need to stare into the sky, for when he comes again in his glory, as he most surely will, no one will be in any doubt, no one will miss him, for he will come in power to judge the living and the dead; then finally he will establish his Kingdom in glory forever.

The mystery of Christ’s Ascension into glory is for us a cause of joy. We rejoice of course in him, for his own sake. But the Ascension has direct consequences for us, which make us rejoice also very much for ourselves. As Pope St. Leo the Great put it in a homily for today’s Feast:

“Christ’s Ascension is our own. Upon the glory of the Head rests the hope of the Body. On this holy day we have received not only the assurance of entering into possession of eternal glory, but we have already entered into the height of heaven with Christ Jesus.”

What is Jesus doing now in heaven? Using the images of human posture, we say that in his risen and glorified body he is both standing and sitting. He is standing before his Father as our great High Priest. That is, he is giving his Father glory on our behalf. As Priest he is standing to offer the heavenly liturgy, which is the source of our own liturgy here on earth. And as Priest he is standing to intercede for us. That intercession of Christ is the source of all our own prayer, and of our confidence, and of our hope.

Jesus is also now sitting. This is the posture of a King on his throne. He sits to receive the glory that is his due, from all the angels and Saints in heaven, and from all the faithful here on earth and in purgatory. He sits also to govern the world with omnipotent power. He sits to exercise judgement; and he sits with his Father to send the Holy Spirit upon his Church, and upon the world.

Today’s feast reminds us that heaven, and glory, and eternal joy, and loving communion, and divine holiness, and Jesus Christ with his Mother and all the Saints: these are the final realities; these are the things that should above all occupy our minds and hearts. Today’s feast is a summons to dwell already with Christ in heaven, ever turned towards him in loving prayer, in faith, in desire, in hope. It’s a summons also to detach ourselves from sin, from self, and from all that attaches us to the passing things of this earth.

Often enough we are tempted to look out on our world with jaded eyes. We seem to see so often the victory of evil. We see all around us the signs of suffering and death. We see ideals wither away in cynicism, we see hopes disappointed, and noble dreams frustrated. And we tell ourselves that this is reality. But it isn’t. All these things are strictly temporary: they will come to an end. Today we jubilantly proclaim that Christ has triumphed, and that the last word belongs to him alone. So everything that is true, everything that is honourable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire; whatever is good and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8): all these things will at last be vindicated. These things alone will endure, even as all causes for sadness, for shame, for regret, are swept away in eternal joy.

And now, here at Mass, we are given the supremely privileged opportunity to participate in the things of heaven. Here, through the ministry of his Church, Christ exercises his Priesthood, offering to his Father the atoning sacrifice of his Cross, and drawing all of us into his own heavenly glory.