In our second reading Saint Paul said that, having heard of the Ephesians’ faith in the Lord Jesus and of their love for the saints, he had not stopped giving thanks for them and was constantly asking God to bless them with the Gift of the Holy Spirit so that:
The eyes of (your) hearts may be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call, what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of His great might, which He worked in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens.
Today’s celebration makes clear just what St. Paul had in mind when he prayed that they might know what is the hope that belongs to the call they had received, for surely the holy Apostles exemplified that hope when:
They were looking intently at the sky as He was going, (when) 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.”
Their hope was clear indeed, to follow Jesus to heaven: to finally leave behind this world where beauty does indeed abound, but not without the ugliness of sin, suffering, and death; where human knowledge, though ever increasing, can never be comprehensive, and thus, being under constant threat from our native ignorance, fallibility and pride, does not always or necessarily lead us to peace or wisdom; and where, consequently, though much is promised and envisaged, true fulfilment is rarely close at hand.
And so, the disciples must wait, perhaps long years, and experience many trials, before they are called to follow the Lord Jesus heavenward. What, therefore, are they to do, above all how are they to live, in the meantime? Let us turn back to Saint Paul’s words:
That you may know what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones.
Yes indeed, our hope is not only to ultimately leave behind and below our sinful selves and this sin-scarred world, but also -- and much more urgently -- to know how the riches of God’s glory may become active and fruitful in our earthly lives as they have been so wonderfully displayed in the lives of His saints in Mother Church. We have some knowledge and awareness of God’s inheritance among the Saints here on earth: saints now glorious in the heavenly kingdom and in the memory of Mother Church for their courage under persecution and torture; saints both strong and faithful despite being, at times, but slight in body and tender in years; saints whose perseverance was not sustained by hatred or bravado but characterized by humility and forgiveness; saints whose goodness towards the poor and needy, the homeless and sick, those outcast and despised, has inspired countless followers over centuries of darkness and cruelty; saints whose wisdom has been such as to enlighten both their world and ours; and again, others whose simplicity and artlessness proclaimed and still proclaims them -- to our great delight -- as true children of God.
Yes, we know something of God’s glorious inheritance among His and Mother Church’s saints here on earth; and we most ardently praise Him, congratulate her, and admire them! But how can our life and death come to be so resplendent with God’s glory as was theirs! We admire them; but they do embarrass us, perhaps even frighten us!! For they remind us of those words of Saint Paul:
If (we are) children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:17)
And how can we – so faithless and full of self-love -- hope to be able to suffer with Him as they did, in order that we –with them -- may also be glorified with Him?
Ah, that is what the Apostle finally prayed for us in our second reading today:
May the eyes of (your) hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of His great might, which He worked in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens.
In Mother Church our eyes are nowadays enlightened to know that the Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead up to the right hand of the Father in heaven has been shared with us, sent to us from the right hand of the Father by Jesus. He is the Spirit of the Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord, and has become for us, in Mother Church, the Gift of Pentecost and the shared Spirit of our Eucharistic Lord, sent to fill our minds and hearts with joy, hope and confidence, even in our present times of growing public opposition, opprobrium, and persecution. Above all, however, He is the Spirit Who will work at Jesus’ behest throughout our lives to form us -- according to the measure of our willingness and co-operation -- in the likeness of Jesus for the Father, so that we may be able to celebrate with ever greater love, compassion, and contrition, the Lord’s Passion and Death both in the liturgy of Mother Church, and in our response to life as coming to us daily from the hands of the Father.
What are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the Saints? They are indeed some participation in the glory which He won for us when One with us, and in the glory which He had with the Father before the world began; for He has raised our humanity up far beyond our native state and above all the angelic choirs. We do not know what our personal share of that glory, of such an inheritance, will be, for even St. John the beloved disciple could only promise:
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure, as He is pure.
We shall see Him as we have come to know Him -- and be known by Him -- through our faithfulness, love, and perseverance here on earth.
Therefore, as today we celebrate the Ascension of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we look forward in anticipation to next week’s celebration of Pentecost, calling to mind once again and cherishing yet more deeply in our hearts the words of the Apostle’s prayer:
May the eyes of (your) hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call, what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of His great might, which He worked in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens.