I am with you always

ascensionToday we celebrate the second of the three solemnities of the Easter season, the Ascension of the Lord. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles tell us that the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of about forty days before ascending into heaven in their sight. The ascension of Jesus, however, did not mark his departure from this world, but his presence in a new way. As Saint Paul states in today’s Second Reading: “[God the Father] put all things beneath [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” Far from abandoning us, Christ’s ascension into glory has made it possible for him to dwell in us, who are his body, the living stones who are the Church. Christ’s presence is not confined to the dimensions of an individual human body, but “fills all things in every way.” Saint Leo the Great, in a sermon on the Ascension, said:

And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments…The truth is that the Son of Man was revealed as Son of God in a more perfect and transcendent way once he had entered into his Father’s glory; he now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity.

This reminds us that we must be careful not to imagine the Ascension in terms too spatial. Saint Augustine, in a sermon on the Ascension of the Lord, said:

He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: “No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.” [John 3:13]

In the Communicantes of Eucharistic Prayer I for the Ascension, we hear that Christ “took his place with [the Father] and raised our frail human nature to glory.” By his incarnation he became one of us, taking upon himself our frail human nature, even to the point of suffering, death and burial. By his resurrection he won the victory over death for humanity. He ascended into glory with his humanity intact and literally has taken human nature to new heights, “giving our mortal nature immortal value.” (Christmas Preface III) Today’s feast is another movement in God’s outreach to us in Christ, drawing us to his bosom in the embrace of sheer love.

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