Roman Rite – Year C – May 8, 2016
Acts 1,1-11; Ps 47; Heb 9.24 – 28, 10.19 – 23; Lk 24.46 – 53
Acts 1: 6-13a; Ps 47; Eph 4: 7-13; Lk 24: 36b-53
1) Ascension: elevation, lifting, exaltation.
To celebrate the feast of the Ascension, the liturgy for the Year C presents the narration of St. Luke describing this event with the verb “to be taken up”, or “lifted up” therefore “exalted.”
Following the teaching of this Evangelist, we understand that the Ascension has two aspects. The first is the climbing to the Father ( “He was taken up to the heaven”), thus indicating that the resurrection of Jesus is not a return to a previous life, almost a step backwards, but the entry into a new condition, a step forward, in the glory of God. The second is departure: Ascension is then presented also as a separation ( “He parted from them”). Jesus withdraws his visible presence, replacing it with a new presence, invisible, yet more profound. It is a presence that we find in faith, in listening to the Word, in the breaking of bread (the Mass) and in fraternity.
As I pointed out at the beginning of this reflection, St. Luke recounts the fact of the ascension, presenting it like the “exaltation” of Jesus (see Lk 24.50 to 53 and Acts 1,1-11). This elevation to heaven is -according to me- closely connected with the elevation of Christ on the Cross, which becomes the throne of his exaltation. In both cases, Christ says word of mercy, forgiveness and blessing.
In both elevations it is not the end of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples, moreover both are a source of joy. Certainly the joy caused by the Christ “taken up to” the cross came after three days, while today is immediate. Both elevations show well the redeeming aim of Christ: Love conquers death, forgives sin and opens the Heaven: the Father’s heart is the abode of the Son and of the children in the Son.
Jesus, the Word of God became incarnate to bring God and his love on Earth. This love is like a magnet that attracts God to man and man to God: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father and I will come to him and make our dwelling with him, in him” (Jn 14, 24). This “descent” is followed by the “rise” of the Son of God who returns to the Father’s house. With the ascension, Christ’s humanity is moved in the heart of divinity. “Immersed in the nature of divinity this humanity now takes part in the nature of God, as well as a hot iron participates in the nature of the fire” (H.U. von Balthasar).
As the ascension-elevation of Christ was for the disciples of about two thousand years ago not a show but an event in which they themselves were included, so for us today the raising of Christ is a sursum corda, namely a “lift up your hearts “, an upward movement, to which we are all called. It is an event which tells us that the human being can really live when he is looking up. The human being is capable of great things, and the only height that corresponds to the measure of man is the height of God himself. That’s why the collect of today’s Mass makes us pray: “Grant, O Almighty God, to us who believe that your only Son, our Redeemer, is now ascended into heaven, that we too can live there with our spirit.”
Once again, the Liturgy sets before us the primacy of God. Pope Francis said: “The Ascension of Jesus to heaven makes us know this reality so comforting for our journey: in Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was taken to God; He has opened for us the way. He is like the head of a rope party that, when climbing a mountain, has come to the top and draws us to him leading us to God. “
The ascension was for the apostles then and now for us, first and foremost a contemplative look to the love that unites the Father and the Son. The phrase of St. Luke in today’s Gospel: “Jesus was taken up into heaven” makes us fix our gaze on this event: the Son returns to the Father who is in heaven. Heaven is the “image” of the Father, the site of his house, his presence, and his communion. The Risen Son can only go to the Father. And we, children in the Son, learn that salvation does not consist in our own presumed greatness or importance, but in this exodus, in this return of love toward God.
2) Mission as a witness namely martyrdom.
The task of the disciples, then and now, is not reduced to watching the sky or know the times or the moments hidden in the secret of God. The task of the disciples until the end of time is to bear witness of Christ to the ends of the earth.
The Son of God, who has communion with the Father, doesn’t held it as possession for himself, but indeed offers it to the disciples and invite them to be witnesses of it to the ends of the earth. The Ascension is not the end of the story, but opens it to an unexpected fruitfulness, so that it becomes, by divine grace and human action, the womb of the new life of communion with God.
The Ascension announces that the real question is not to prolong history, but to go up with Christ to the Father, knowing that each of us “lives not where the body is, but where the heart is” (St. Augustine of Hippo).
For this reason the apostles did not stay on the mountain watching the sky, but in loving obedience to Christ’s command, became witnesses to the Trinitarian communion that gives form and life to the communion of men, on the way to reach Heaven.
Let’s not forget that the witness (in Greek marturos = martyr) is one who is able to make a statement, that is, to tell the fact which he has personally witnessed. Therefore, the original environment of the testimony is the procedural debate. The Apostles have personally seen the events of Jesus (“these things”) and are therefore able to witness them. The word “witness” however, has broadened its meaning. Now no longer indicates only those who speak of a fact they saw. The term “witness” is often used to indicate a person who leads by example. The Gospel demands to be witnesses boldly stating something in which they deeply believed, and were prepared to affirm with the sacrifice of themselves. In this sense, the real witness is the martyr who testifies with the gift of life, the truth that he has encountered and loved.
Therefore, the witness (= martyr) is characterized by a deep relationship with Christ, who is par excellence the Martyr of love and truth: “I was born for this and for this I came into the world to bear witness to the truth” (1 Jn 18:37). Love is the cause that prompted the Redeemer to give his life (see 1 Jn 4,8). Truth and love are inseparable, because love becomes real only if it is true and the power of truth is held in love. This double dimension is very present in the testimony of the martyrs. Christ is revealed as the truth (see Jn 14,6) and this truth becomes credible through love (see Jn 15:13).
In this regard, I believe useful to remember that, if the martyr is the disciple that is made similar to the Master because he willingly accepts death for the salvation of the brothers and sisters in humanity, virginity can be considered a form of martyrdom. In fact, consecrated virginity implies in an ordinary way-not in an extraordinary one as in the blood martyrdom- a life totally identified with the offering of Christ, immaculate Lamb.
The consecrated virgin in the world bears witness to Christ the Lord with the gift of her life daily renew and lived in work in and for the world. With her consecration the virgin in the world says the absolute of God in the fragment of love daily lived in praise of God and in the service of mercy for the poor.
The consecrated virgin offers her body as “heaven” for Christ and makes herself a living tabernacle of the One who made heaven.
The consecrated virgin makes true this prayer of St. Gregory of Nazianzus: “If I were not yours, my Christ, I would feel a finished creature. I was born and I fell that I’m fading. I eat, I sleep, rest and walk, get sick and heal me, longings and torments attack me, I enjoy the sun and how the earth bears fruit. Then I die and the flesh becomes dust like that of the animals that have no sins. What do I have more then them? Nothing but God. If I were not yours, my Christ, I would feel a finished creature. “
Saint Gregory of Nyssa (335 – 395)
Jaeger VI, 466-488
When love has entirely cast out fear, and fear has been transformed into love, then the unity brought us by our savior will be fully realized, for all men will be united with one another through their union with the one supreme Good. They will possess the perfection ascribed to the dove, according to our interpretation of the text: One alone is my dove, my perfect one. She is the only child of her mother, her chosen one.
Our Lord’s words in the gospel bring out the meaning of this text more clearly. After having conferred all power on his disciples by his blessing, he obtained many other gifts for them by his prayer to the Father. Among these was included the greatest gift of all, which was that they were no longer to be divided in their judgment of what was right and good, for they were all to be united to the one supreme Good. As the Apostle says, they were to be bound together with the bonds of peace in the unity that comes from the Holy Spirit. They were to be made one body and one spirit by the one hope to which they were all called. We shall do better, however, to quote the sacred words of the gospel itself. I pray, the Lord says, that they all may be one; that as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, so they also may be one in us.
Now the bond that creates this unity is glory. That the Holy Spirit is called glory no one can deny if he thinks carefully about the Lord’s words: The glory you gave to me, I have given to them. In fact, he gave this glory to his disciples when he said to them: Receive the Holy Spirit. Although he had always possessed it, even before the world existed, he himself received this glory when he put on human nature. Then, when his human nature had been glorified by the Spirit, the glory of the Spirit was passed on to all his kin, beginning with his disciples. This is why he said: The glory you gave to me, I have given to them, so that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, I want them to be perfectly one.
Whoever has grown from infancy to manhood and attained to spiritual maturity possesses the mastery over his passions and the purity that makes it possible for him to receive the glory of the Spirit. He is that perfect dove upon whom the eyes of the bridegroom rest when he says: One alone is my dove, my perfect one.