Monday, May 18, 2015

Really, What Is The Big Deal About The Ascension

What is the significance of the Ascension of Jesus? Would we not be better off if Jesus had not ascended? Why did He only show Himself to His disciples, not to those who crucified Him--to show them His power and glory? Let's take the last first.

If He had shown Himself to others, they would have believed that He had not died, and would have been intent upon attempting to kill Him again. When this would have been deemed impossible, perhaps they might have become obedient, howbeit not because of love.

Would it have been better for us if He had not ascended, if He had remained physically here with us? The aforementioned would have probably resulted because at some point He would have become visible to others. Also because of His physical presence, He could only be present in one place at a time, as the Pope is. Because of His physical presence, all eyes would be upon Him and not His universal disciples. Most importantly: God knows what is best for our sanctification. If Jesus had remained upon Earth, the Holy Spirit would not have been sent. Secondly, there would be no Catholic Church--no Body of Christ--no Sacraments, especially no Eucharist. There would not be the love, the dependance upon one another, i.e. the love of neighbor.

It is plausible that one might arrive at a conclusion that he does not depend upon others. No man is an island; he has a need for others. He needs others to teach him, forgive him his sins, to encourage him, to institute the Eucharist, to socialize with him, etc. "Well, does not Protestants get along without some of those things?" The Protestants do not realize that the Catholic Church is their life-blood. They would not, could not, exist without the Catholic Church. Just because they do not believe it does not make it any less true. Just because some people do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God does not negate the truth that He is. Satan knows that, if he can destroy the Catholic Church, it would be the demise of Christianity. This is why the world primarily attacks the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church offers up its Masses not only for Catholics but for all Christians. People who "escape" hell do not go to hell because of the Catholic Church. Yes, you will hear the the retort: "That is not true; it is because of Christ." Yes, that is true, but that selfsame Jesus Christ is the HEAD OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, His Church, His Body; hence, it is because of the Catholic Church.

Because of the Ascension, Jesus created His Church, the Catholic Church. Because we do have the Catholic Church and the Sacraments instituted by Christ, esp. the Eucharist. Because of the Ascension, the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son. Because the Holy Spirit was sent, Christ is all--in each of us and all of us.

Each person of the Godhead, the Trinity, loves the Others as Himself. We see this truth in creation, but especially in the Incarnation, the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would not have told us to love our neighbor as ourselves if this was not the love of God. Love of neighbor is the love that makes us the image of God. I will not go into detail; but, suffice it to say: Jesus, the Son of God, became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit because of love of the Father, making mankind God's "neighbor." Jesus loved His neighbor as Himself, giving Himself totally, unto Death. No greater love has a man for his brother, for his neighbor. Because of the Ascension, mankind is able to manifest this love, especially through the priesthood and the Mass of the Catholic Church, instituted by Jesus, the Son of God, Himself.

In the Liturgy of the Hours, the antiphon for the Invitatory today is: Alleluia, come, let us worship Christ the Lord as He ascends into heaven, alleluia. The word "come" reminds us to turn our minds to God. Then we are told that Christ "is" ascending and that we should worship as He is ascending. The Ascension is not only a past, historical event; it is also a present thing, an ongoing event.

How is this possible? The more that Catholics grow into the image of their Head, Jesus, the more we "ascend" to His likeness. When we sin, we "descend" to the depths of the likeness of the earth, the world (cf. St. Augustine's commentary on Psalms). Many people outside of the Catholic Church are concerned only about being "saved and going to heaven;" not so, the Catholic: The Catholic is concerned about "ascending" to the likeness of Christ. This is true worship, worship in Truth and Spirit. This is the purpose of the Catholic Church, its Sacraments and Masses, its prayers.

In the Invitatory of the Liturgy of the Hours, we are invited to encourage other daily to turn our minds to to God, to His precepts, asking for His grace to enable us to walk in His precepts and praying for His mercy to walk with us and guide us as we attempt to cooperate with that grace. We remind and encourage each other to not grow stubborn and presumptuous as our forefathers did in the wilderness. True worship is when we walk in obedience, and we cannot do this alone; we need each other, the Catholic Church--love in action. The grace of God and His mercy is most often exhibited through the actions of others, especially Catholics. In our prayers for each other, our working for the good of each other, and our aid to each other, we manifest the love of God, and the resultant effect is: Christ is ascending in us, in the Catholic Church. We are not individuals; we are a Body. This occurs in every Mass.

"Let God arise, let His foes be scattered." We can easily apply this to ourselves: "Lord, arise; show us our sins, that they may be scattered through our repentance and obedience; may the wicked[ness] [in us] perish; may we bless You through obedience. May we ascend, and Christ ascend in us."

I recall a Protestant preacher advising that, if you desire to understand a passage better, read it and then reread it--backwards. It is great advice. Let's try it with our reading from Ephesians 1 and then from Ephesians 4. First, read it again; and, here, I have it backwards:

Ephesians 1:17-23:

And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. 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, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.

Ephesians 4:1-13

"And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ. What does'“he ascended' mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. Therefore, it says: 'He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men.' But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

This is ascending with Christ and Christ ascending. He ascended on high, not to a place but a--for lack of a better term--position. Because of His love for the Father and His neighbor, the Son of Man, Jesus, being also the Son of God, ascended in his manhood to a position with divinity, at the right hand of God. And He took prisoners captive." In other words, those in captivity, He took captive. Those in captivity to sin and death, Jesus took captive by His love and the love of His Father, which is the one and same love, just as the husband is held captive by the love of his wife and the wife is held captive by the love of the husband. First and foremost, He does this by virtue of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection; He is doing it also, because of the Ascension, through mankind--the Catholic Church--by giving gifts to men: some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip us, the holy ones...

Because of the Catholic Church's obedience and ascending unto the likeness of Christ: "All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God wit cries of gladness (by virtue of our obedience, done by the grace and mercy of our God), for the LORD, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth (as aforementioned)." "Earth" is us before Baptism and our mortal and venial sins. Christ mounts His throne, the Cross, bearing our sins, turning death into a conduit to glory. By His grace and mercy (exhibited by His working through us, esp. the Church), we walk more and more in obedience, which is "singing hymns of praise." Because God is king of all the earth, let us walk more and more in obedience. "God reigns over the nations, God sits upon His holy throne."
--Tommy Turner