The Ascension of the Lord

Today's Mass Readings


Once while I was working at The Printery House, a religious sister wrote in to complain about our greeting cards referring to “heaven above.” She quite rightly noted that Pope John Paul II had pointed out that heaven was not a place but a state of being. In other words, we will not go to a place in the clouds, but to a supernatural reality beyond earthly, mortal experience, into the very life of the Trinity. I replied and thanked her for making the point. However, I told her a little poetic license for greeting cards—which falls within biblical language—would likely persist.

In Christ’s Ascension, there is ample reason why he flies aloft above the gathered apostles. Again, the biblical worldview orients meetings between God and man on mountain peaks, the Temple is on a mount, and Elijah ascends to heaven in a fiery chariot. Perhaps from a more basic level in our human language, we speak about excellence metaphorically as being above, over, high up—for example, “she stood head and shoulders above the rest,” “he’s top of his class,” and “you just one-up’d him!” To the eyes of the Eleven, Jesus appears to ascend beyond their gaze because He is taking our human nature into that higher plane of existence, above our comprehension and over our experience.

At the same time, despite being above us in the heavenly reality, the Lord is now able to be even more close to us. “Just as the rains come down from heaven, and do not return until they have fulfilled their intended purpose,” says Isaiah, “so shall my word be.” Jesus was the eternal Word made flesh, that fulfilling our salvation, returns to heaven. At the same time, Christ told the crowds He would be water inside each of them like “a spring welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). In each Eucharist, He makes Himself present to us and gives Himself as food, and yet like the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves, there is always much leftover.

The Ascension is a mystery. We can always get more out of it without exhausting it. There will always be more left over. Just because we cannot comprehend it should heighten our expectation for heaven, while also rejoicing in the gifts Jesus gives us to delight in building His kingdom.

Reflection by Fr. Pachomius Meade, OSB

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