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Archbishop Follo: The Ascension of the Lord

With the wish to understand that the Ascension tells us that in Christ our humanity is brought to the height of God.

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“Jesus has ascended and he is not departed” (Discourse upon the Ascension of the Lord, ed. A. Mai 98. 1-2; PLS 2, 494-4959) and now, thanks to the fact that He is with the Father, he is close to each one of us, forever (Benedict XVI, May 7th 2005).
Ascension of the Lord. – Year C- June 2nd, 2019
Roman Rite
Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47; Heb 9:24-28; 10:19-23; Lk 24:46-53
Ambrosian Rite
Acts 1:6-13a; Ps 47; Eph 4:7-13; Lk 24: 36b-53

  • Ecce Homo

The feast of the Ascension of Christ makes us celebrate the joyful and glorious manifestation of that true aspect of the Ecce Homo that was hidden by the passion in a dramatic way. A little more than 40 days before this event of heaven, Pilatus had shown Christ, the suffering and bleeding Servant, to the people reunited to condemn him, stressing in this way the offended and humiliated face of the man.
Look at this man,” said the Roman Procurator. The people did not take pity on him and condemned him to death. Even today television, news, web, and movies continuously present, sometimes with compassion, more often with cynicism, and many times with the masochistic pleasure of self-destruction, the humiliated and defeated man in all forms of horror: this is how man is, they keep telling us. Science with evolutionism takes us to the past, shows us the results of its research, the clay from which man came, and “ensures” us that this is what man is.
The event of the Savior’s ascension tells to the old and new disciples that the Pilatus’ statement showing the flogged Christ is a statement only half true. Jesus is not only a man with his head crowned with thorns and his body exhausted by scourging; He is the Lord and his kingdom, with the “ violence” of a sacrificial love, gives back to man and to the entire world the original beauty. In ascending to heaven Christ demonstrated to have lifted up the image of Adam. We are not made only of dirt and pain, we are in Christ up to the heart of God.
“The Ascension of Christ is the rehabilitation of man. It is not being hit that lowers and humiliates but to hit; it is not being subject to spitting that lowers and humiliates, but to spit on someone; it is not the one who is offended but the one who offends that is dishonored; it is not haughtiness that ennobles man but humility; it is not self-glorification that makes him great, but the communion with God” (Benedict XVI, Images of Hope, 2005)

  • To believe and to celebrate Ascension

What is the meaning of believing that Jesus “is ascended into heaven”? We can find the answer in the Creed: “He is ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father”. The fact that Christ is ascended into heaven means that “he is sitting at the right hand of the Father”.  He has entered also with his human nature in the world of God that had been made Lord of everything (as Saint Paul writes in the second reading of today’s liturgy). For us “to go to heaven” or “go into Paradise” means to go and be with Christ” (Phil 1, 23). Our true sky is the resurrected Christ with whom we will reunite after the resurrection of the body.
The Ascension does not point to Jesus’ absence but tells us that he is alive in our midst in a new way. He is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each one of us” (Pope Francis, General Audience, April 17th, 2013). With the feast of the Ascension, we celebrate the fact that Paradise opens its doors to humanity with the solemn and joyful entrance of Christ into heaven to the right hand of the Father.
            In his farewell, Jesus leaves his truth and his power to the Apostles because Ascension was not a departure but a way to intensify his presence everywhere in the universe. It was not a farewell (in the current meaning farewell means that we will see each other again only in heaven) but the promise and the certainty of a continuous presence to the limits of time and space: “I will be with you always until the end of the age “(Mt 28:20) In fact “farewell” comes from the Latin “ad Deum”, towards God. When we greet each other in this way we commit ourselves to a journey that means a return to the house of God. Our entire life is towards an event, the one of the encounter with God-Love.
Waiting to make this final encounter through the passage with the body on the last day, Christians are called to make it happen every day with the heart. This passage of the heart towards what is eternal doesn’t divert the Christian man and woman from the historical duties that They have in this world. The question that the two angels in white robes asked to the Apostles “Why do you look up in the sky?” is valid to us too.
“To go from this world” and “not to go with this world” ( Saint Augustine) we must work on us so that every day the heart can go towards what is eternal. We must look at the true sky, not to the atmospheric one, but to the one of God for which our heart longs for. “My soul thirsts for the living God”. Saint Paul writes: “But our citizenship* is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil 3:20) The sky of the Christian life is ultimately a person: it is the risen Christ to whom we are incorporated and with whom we are called to be “one body”.
“To go to heaven” or “to go into Paradise” means to go and to be “with Christ”( Phil 1:23) “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”( Jn 14:2-3) Therefore to celebrate and to live the Ascension is to feed this holy desire of God and of a full life now and for eternity.

  • To announce the Gospel is to carry Christ’s benediction

Toward the end of today’s Gospel, we read that Jesus: “As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.”
Every time we go to Mass, every time we experiment the benediction, we can exit from the Church and go into the world as blessed individuals and not as poor abandoned human beings.
“Personally I will never forget the devotion and the interior dedication my father and my mother showed when they signed us children with blessed water, making the sign of the cross on our forehead, on our mouth, and on our chest every time we had to leave. This benediction was a sign of company by which we felt guided. It was a visible sign of our parents’ prayer that followed us with the certainty that this prayer was backed by the Redeemer’s benediction. I think that this act of blessing, as a full and benevolent expression of the universal priesthood of all baptized, should come back regularly into our daily life and should be energized with the love that comes from the Lord to bless is a priestly act: in the sign of the cross we perceived our parents’ priesthood, its dignity, and its strength. ( Joseph Ratzinger “ Introduction to Spirit of Liturgy” Ed. San Paolo 2001). Hands that bless are hands that offer and pray. The consecrated Virgins are called in a particular way to fulfill this deed. In offering themselves entirely to Christ they unite their hands to those of Christ and become like the roof on our heads. With the benediction of the Bishop, the life of consecration of the Virgins is rewarded with the gifts of salvation and life,  is spent in prayer and thanksgiving for the received gifts and is an offering of intercession for the Church and the entire World.
A short explanation of some of the Gospel’s words
The verb anapherein (= to go up, to be carried up in the new translation of the Bible) which suggests a progressive action, is in the passive form (this is the only time it is used in this way in the New Testament) and explains God’s action with a connection to the description of takings in the Bible( Gen5;24; Sir 44:16;49:14;1 King 2:9;Sir 48:9.24). The idea that the Evangelist wants to transmit is a different one.  He indicates the exaltation of the resurrected at the right hand of God as it is confirmed by the Apostles’ preaching (Phil 2; 9; 1Tim3:16; 1 Pt3:22, Acts2:33; 5:31).
Despite the site of the Ascension is not cited in the Bible, from Acts we could surmise that it could be the Olives’ Garden because after the Ascension the disciples “returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.” (Acts 1; 12)
Gethsemane (Aramaic word that means “oil mill’) is a small olives’ garden outside Old town Jerusalem and is at the foot of the garden where Jesus went after the Last Supper and where he was betrayed by Judas and captured (Mt 26:36; Mk14:32; Lk22:39). This place is known also as Olives’ Garden.

Patristic Reading

by St. Augustine

  1. The Lord Jesus, the Only-begotten of the Father, Co-eternal with His Parent, like Him Invisible, like Him Omnipotent, as God Equal to Him, became Man for us, as you know, and have received, and hold fast in faith; and though He took to Himself a human form, He did not give up the divine. Omnipotence was veiled; infirmity made manifest. He was born, as you have come to know so that we might be reborn. He died so that we might not die forever. And straightaway, that is, on the third day, He rose again from the dead; assuring us that we too shall rise on the last day.

He showed Himself to His Disciples: that they might see him with their eyes, and touch Him with their hands; showing them what He had become, and that He had not put off what He always was. For forty days He spoke with them, as you have heard, going in and coming out, eating and drinking together with them; not now from need, but wholly from power, and making plain to them the true nature of His Body: mortal upon the cross, immortal from the grave.
On this day, therefore, that is, the fortieth after His Resurrection, the Lord ascended into heaven. We have not seen, but we believe. They who beheld Him proclaimed what they saw, and they have filled the whole earth: There are no speeches nor languages where their voices are not heard. Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world (Ps. xviii. 4, 5). And so they have reached even unto us and awakened us from sleep. And lo! this death is celebrated throughout the world.
Remember the psalm. To whom was it said: Be thou exalted, O God? To whom was it said? Was Be thou exalted said to the Father, Who never was made lowly? Be Thou exalted: Thou Who wast enclosed in the womb of a mother. Thou Who was formed in Her whom Thou made. Thou Who hast lain in a manger. Thou Who as a true Child in the flesh drank milk from the breast. Thou who while borne in Thy Mother’s arms sustained the world. Thou whom the venerable Simeon beheld a child, and extolled as Mighty. Thou Whom the Widow Anna saw at the breast and knew Omnipotent. Thou Who hast hungered because of us, suffered thirst for us, grown weary on the way (but did the Bread of Life hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Way grow weary?). Thou Who hast borne all these things for us. Thou Who hast slept, yet unsleeping watches over Israel. And lastly, Thou Who wast seized, bound, scourged, crowned with thorns, hung upon the Tree, pierced with a lance, died, and was buried. Be Thou exalted, O God!
Take Thou Thy seat in heaven Who hung from the Cross. As Judge to come Thou art awaited Who awaited and received judgment. Who could believe this without His help Who raised the needy from the earth, and uplifted the poor from the dunghill? He has raised up His own needy flesh and placed it with the Princes of His people (Ps. cxii. 7), with whom He shall judge the living and the dead. He has placed this needy flesh with those to whom He said: You shall sit on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt. xix. 28).
Be Thou, therefore, exalted above the heavens, O God! This has come to pass. It is now fulfilled.
Yet we also say of that which was proclaimed of the future: Be thou exalted above the heavens, O God! We have not seen it, but we believe. For lo! Before our eyes is now fulfilled that which follows: Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: and thy glory above all the earth. He cannot believe the first who does not see this. For what does, And thy glory above all the earth mean but Thy Church which is spread over all the earth, Thy Spouse spread over all the earth, Thy Bride over all the earth? Thy Beloved, Thy Dove, Thy Consort! She is Thy glory. And the Apostle teaches us this. The man indeed, he says, ought not to cover his head; because he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of man. If the woman is the glory of man, then the Church is the glory of Christ, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns world without end. Amen.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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