It is strange that, since Our Blessed Lord’s work of our redemption consisted in rescuing, freeing, us from the chains of death, and restoring us to life with Him before the Father by opening up the way to our heavenly home long closed to us since Adam’s sin; it is strange I say, indeed most strange, that we pass over -- generally with little consideration -- His glorious Ascension: we celebrate His Resurrection for 6 joyful weeks and then His Ascension is almost immediately swallowed up by our thoughts of and preparations for Pentecost.
What is first and fundamental? Surely it is because Jesus triumphed over Satan – the personification and author of sin -- first of all, in the desert after His baptism by John and in preparation for His Public Ministry; and secondly, at the consummation of His Public Ministry on the Cross of Calvary. Only when sin’s power over us on earth had been destroyed in Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead could our life-for-heaven be restored by Jesus’ Ascension into heaven and His subsequent bestowal on Mother Church of His most Holy Spirit. Spiritual sin leads to spiritual death, exemplified in, and ultimately manifested by, physical death. The link between sin and death is total because sin is death, whereas God is love and life. Because Jesus was sinless -- totally sinless -- even as man He could not be held by the chains of death, because He was sinless-for-heaven He rose from among the dead on earth. His heavenly Ascension was thus the ultimate aspiration of Jesus and the eternal fulfillment of His earthly Resurrection.
If you (the Eleven at the Last Supper) loved Me, you would rejoice because I said ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I. (John 14:28)
And what joy and rejoicing (poor earthly words!) encompassed His Ascension!! His Father, the Prodigal Father, most lovingly embraces the returned Son Who had – out of love for and obedience to His Father -- been where He was burdened by sin, so alien to Himself and so deeply-rooted in us, His adopted brethren. And having triumphed over all sin on earth by His truthful proclamation and loving manifestation of His Father’s heavenly glory, He has returned, ascended to His home and taken up His former state at the right hand of His Father!! How loving the embrace between Father and Son at that re-union! And it is an embrace that enfolds us too, for the Son is now, and eternally, Son of Man, God made man, whose disciples are we, members of the Body of which He, Jesus Our Lord, is the Head! How close we are now – in and with Our Ascended Lord -- to the Father!!
Such fulness of glory and depth of love demand gifts (according to our human estimation) and there is only one, God’s own Gift of the Holy Spirit, fit to celebrate such an occasion; a Gift to be bestowed anew on Mother Church this coming Pentecost!! And since gifts are to be exchanged on such occasions, our response to God’s Gift of the Spirit can only be our gift of self, in loving praise for and longing aspiration towards our heavenly Lord and Saviour, the Father’s most beloved Son, in the power and purpose of that same Spirit.
And yet, having enjoyed six weeks of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances and then found the Ascension pass by so quickly, many Catholics -- openly recognized and approved as such -- want to live their lives in a care-free resurrection-period type of life. They do not want to acknowledge, in their attitude to life, that the Ascension is the supremely fundamental aspect of our faith, whereby we are called to heaven where Jesus is preparing for us. Far from that, they aspire and rejoice to live a full earthly life ... but one where Jesus, as it were, keeps popping up. Their earthly aspirations, they would say, do not deny heavenly ones, but in fact they far outweigh them as regards immediate importance, long-term concern, and close attention. They keep the Church’s (Jesus’) rules generally, and Jesus does take on more special importance for them on a restricted number of occasions such as Sundays, baptisms, weddings, and deaths; but they cherish no abiding Ascension-with-Jesus aspirations to what is higher, more demanding.
This religious, spiritual misapprehension is to be seen faintly reflected in the ordinary lives of many parents (portrayed and praised so much in Hollywood movies!) and responsible adults (especially grandparents!!) who so often want to enjoy being with their infants and young children. They love so much to descend to the child’s level: talking their language, playing their games, and having so much, and such delightful, fun with them. Parents (and helping grandparents) are often loath to lose out on such delight, and so they do not truly want to educate (= lead from, lead out of) their children, do not seriously try to gently and gradually raise them to appropriate and enlightened adult levels of appreciation of, and response to, life.
Jesus said, ’Do not cling to Me for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’ (John 20:17)
God, however, is no such over-indulgent, doting, Father for us: He calls us to love His Son, Our Lord: to learn of, live for, Him more and more; and that is where our awareness and appreciation of the Ascension of Our Blessed Lord is so important. If we are true Christians, true disciples of Jesus, we are on the Ascension curve upwards, not resting here, even though it be in the Elysian joys of the 40 days! We are seeking and aspiring to Jesus our Heavenly Lord, not resting comfortably in His Resurrection appearances. How frequently do we mention, refer to, Our Risen Lord; how rarely do we then intend our Heavenly Lord!
Our Blessed Lord appeared to His disciples for forty days in order to make manifest to them WHO HE – though taken from them into heaven – IS in His Personal relationship with and for them. He appeared as the Risen Lord for a short time in order to help them relate to Himself as their eternally-abiding Saviour, Lord, and Brother Who is working now to make a home for them in heaven, and He emphasized that by His Gift of another Paraclete to be with them on earth, through Whom they themselves would in their turn be prepared, by the power of that Spirit, to become ever more worthy of such a home, such a destiny, and such a fulfilment.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Pentecost is the most wonderful time because it is the culmination of the Son’s saving descent among men on earth and in the underworld, and of His victorious rising and ascending to the embrace of His Father in Heaven and to a seat, His very own, at the Father’s right hand. The coming of the Spirit to our aid is the fruit of that meeting of Father and Son. Delight, therefore, in the Father’s love which already embraces us because we love the Lord and are living members of His Body the Church; aspire to follow and be one with the Son-made-man, our God and Saviour, for that is our calling; and welcome, work with, the Spirit Who comes to fit us for heaven by forming us in Jesus as children of God, adopted indeed, but most true and most truly beloved, children of the Father.