The Ascension: A Reflection On Living Faith
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We too, in a sense, can stand with the apostles, looking heavenward to that place where our Lord ascended. We, too, can experience that fiery wonder deep within which transforms fear and tragedy, insecurity and tension into a bright, peaceful certainty that floods the heart with loving warmth from God.
The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it.
DENVER, CO (Catholic Online) - When the apostles gathered together with Jesus on the mount called Olivet, they asked him about restoring the kingdom of Israel, which prompted this response from our Lord: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." St. Luke informs us that "When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight." (see Acts 1:6-9). At the end of Mark's gospel we are given additional information as to precisely where Jesus went: "So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God" (16:19). Imagine the apostles looking on as their Master, Teacher and Savior whom they had spent so much time with, vanished from their sight and ascended into heaven. For only days ago they faced with great fear what appeared to be an insurmountable catastrophe when the Son of Man was cruelly put to death. Yet the dark tears of fear were broken, light shone forth; the Lord stood among them and, after promising to send the Holy Spirit, vanished into the heavens on a cloud! What intense vibrations of love and wonder must have resounded in the apostles' hearts. We too, in a sense, can stand with the apostles, looking heavenward to that place where our Lord ascended. We, too, can experience that fiery wonder deep within which transforms fear and tragedy, insecurity and tension into a bright, peaceful certainty that floods the heart with loving warmth from God. Yet the warmth, peace and security that only God can give so often seems to escape us. Consider that Friday when "darkness came over the whole land" (Mk. 15:33). At three o'clock in the afternoon our Lord cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (15:34). And then Jesus breathed his last. Is this not a reflection of our own life? How often darkness comes over our own land; how often we cry out, whether audibly or in interior silence, as an intense feeling of need overcomes us; how often we echo Christ's own words: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Why do we so easily experience insecurity, taste aloneness and, even, feel abandoned? We hear over and over again what God has planned for us. The living Tradition of the Catholic Church has handed on the wonders and luminous brilliance of the Faith to us, her children, that we may know and understand for what eternal purpose we were created. We live to love and serve God, as his adopted sons and daughters, breathing a fully human life which shares in the divine life of God through our baptism into Christ. We are created by the fires of God's divine love and destined through Christ to live for ever and ever in our heavenly homeland, where we will be caught up into everlasting, loving joy. And, as we stand looking into the eternal depths of the sky, not seeing our Lord, yet knowing by faith where he is and that he resides in our hearts, we have no need to worry over those circumstances of life which drive thorns of pain deep within us, for all things are passing. Christ has risen. Indeed our Lord has risen! He has ascended into heaven where he appears "in the presence of God on our behalf." "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it. Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, "entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands. . . but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf." There Christ permanently exercises his priesthood, for he "always lives to make intercession" for "those who draw near to God through him". As "high priest of the good things to come" he is the center and the principal actor of the liturgy that honors the Father in heaven. (CCC No. 662). "Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life" (1 Jn. 2:24-25). The question is, has what we "heard from the beginning" remained in us? Do we still believe with all our heart what our holy Mother Church has so carefully guarded and transmitted to us? Do we awake before the sun, with our very fist thought of love already abiding in our mind: a thought that is fixed on our Savior, his promise, and his desires for us; a thought flooded with light from above, transforming us, shaping us by the gentle kiss of the Holy Spirit, remaking us ever-more perfectly into a true child of God? Do we, in this way, constantly draw near to God through Christ? So, the real question is, do we have faith? Perhaps it is best to start by asking, "What does it mean to have faith?" In order to explore this question, it is necessary to remember that there are a great number of forces in the world which labor against the Faith. For those who are opposed to God, acting with heedless contempt toward his commands in dissent from our holy Mother Church, tend quite frequently to confuse, spoil, even obliterate the true meaning of faith in the minds of the unwary. Therefore we must be on the alert, cherishing our faith, nourishing it as a priceless pearl (Mt. 13:46), guarding against those who would lead us astray; for "it is the last hour," and "so now many anti-christs have appeared" (see 1 Jn. 2:18); and our "adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). Our Lord warned us to "beware of false prophets" who come "in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Mt. 7:15). If we are to understand what it means to have faith, we must first start by reflecting on what it means to believe. For, as is so often the case, the manner in which words are used today frequently tends to distort or dilute the completeness of their proper meaning. St. John offers us insight guided by the breath of the Holy Spirit, grounding us in what it means to believe in Jesus Christ. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him" (Jn 3:36). Clearly true belief is inseparably tied to obedience-and there are consequences for disobedience. This is an important concept of which many in today's world are either ignorant or purposefully ignore. To truly believe in Christ is to, by faith, submit completely with intellect and will to all that he is, all that he has done, all that he has taught-including his Bride, our holy Mother Church. "By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, 'the obedience of faith'" (CCC No. 143). In faith we are to "submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself" (Ibid., No. 144). God's word is heard in its entirety and totality by listening to the words of truth the Catholic Church feeds the faithful. It is in her that, through her voice in the midst of the world, the fullness of truth contained in Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium is presented for all Christians to hear and love. Pope Saint Leo the Great spoke of the immense gift of faith we receive from Christ and his Church: "This faith was increased by the Lord's ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire and ravening beasts, and the most refined tortures ever devised by brutal persecutors. Throughout the world women no less than men, tender girls as well as boys, have given their life's blood in the struggle for this faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead" (Sermo 2 de Ascensione 1-4: PL 54, 399). If we want our faith to grow, if we desire to feel the fiery wonder of the ascension flow through our hearts, let us listen to our Mother Church who teaches us not merely of those visible things in the world, but of the totality of reality, the seen and the unseen: all that there is, all that we are, and all that we are meant to become: "As a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to understand and communicate, the Church our Mother teaches us the language of faith in order to introduce us to the understanding and the life of faith" (CCC No. 71, excerpt). The life of true faith. It is a stimulating and vigorous Catholic life of love and brightness; one which cannot be shaken nor injured nor destroyed by the appearance of any earthly catastrophe so long as we ourselves remain in the Light, remembering what we have heard from the beginning, never turning from our Beloved who ascended into heaven in order to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
----- F. K. Bartels knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest treasures a man could ever have. He is managing editor of catholicpathways.com, and a contributing writer for Catholic Online.
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