Saturday, June 4, 2011

"Why Are You Looking Up Into the Sky?" by Fr. Richard Tomasek S.J.

Jesus ascended into heaven so that He might descend into our hearts. What seems like a departure from us is really a deeper union with us. Our Lord could have done things differently. He could have stayed physically among us all these centuries, perhaps living in Jerusalem or Rome. Then each of us might, if we could afford it, be able to catch a glimpse of Him at least once in this lifetime, as some Catholics manage to see and hear the Pope on a trip to Rome or as fortunate Muslims succeed in making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. But God's plan was much deeper than that. He wanted to live with each of His Children and friends all the time wherever we are and in whatever circumstance. As He told His apostles at the Last Supper, "I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. In a little while you will no longer see Me but you will see Me because I live and you will live. On that day, you will realize that I am in the Father and you are in Me & I am in you."(Jn. 14:18-20)

We must be careful not to read the biblical symbolism as literal physical facts. Heaven is not up in the sky. Jesus didn't blast off like a rocket to some place in the stratosphere, some outpost in our solar system or galaxy. Jesus' Ascension is not a journey to another place but to another dimension of God's presence in this world. And He invites us to find Him there by prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In today's first reading, two angels ask the apostles, "Why are standing there looking at the sky?" (Acts 1:10) Jesus tells them rather to go back to Jerusalem and "wait for the promise of the Father...for in a few days, you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit...then you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:4-8)

The Ascension is the culmination of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus in which He is reassuring the apostles and us that 1) now, after His death, He is still alive 2) He is the same Jesus that we knew when He walked and talked and ate among us and 3) He lives now in a transcendent way, physical but omnipresent, unlimited by time and space, sharing in all God's qualities and powers but still retaining His humanity.

The Ascension is also the beginning of Pentecost, the inflow of divine life into the mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Jesus, our "head", is in heaven and we, the "members of His body", are on earth but now heaven and earth are married, like the divine and human natures of Jesus reside in His one person. Not only is Jesus' humanity transfigured but so is ours. The Trinity now makes their home in us and through us is emanating throughout all creation.

The Church is the place where heaven and earth are married and the two become one flesh. Her Eucharist, her members, her Scriptures, her corporal and spiritual works of mercy, her service, her moral life--all of this announces that God has won the victory in Christ, that the New Heaven and the New Earth have begun. (Rev 21:1). It is true that only the eyes of faith perceive the Kingdom of God; only the believer is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. But we the Church now become the physical presence of Jesus in the world. It is through us and seeing our good works that the world will come to know and glorify the heavenly Father (Mt. 5:16) and be joined to Christ for salvation. Let us praise and thank the Trinity for this unspeakable intimacy!

h/t TheresaRita

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