The Ascension of Christ
And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God.-- MARK xvi. 19.
INTRODUCTION. During forty days after His Resurrection our Lord appeared many times and in diverse places and circumstances to His disciples and others. He walked and talked with them. He permitted them to see and put their hands into His wounds, and He ate with them; thus proving by the most incontestable arguments that He was really risen from the dead, and was again living in His own body. It was also during those forty days that our Saviour gave His Apostles final instructions concerning His Church.
I. " He ascended into heaven." 1. Give brief history of the Ascension as detailed in today's Gospel and Epistle. 2. Christ ascended into heaven as man; as God He was always there, 3. Christ ascended into heaven by His own power.
II. He "sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty." 1. These words express the glory which Christ as man enjoys above all others in heaven. This glory the Saviour merited by His earthly poverty, sufferings, and death (Philip, ii. 9). 2. Christ is now constituted King over all the world: "of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke i. 33; Eph. i. 22; Heb. ii. 8).
III. Reasons of our Lord's Ascension, 1. Heaven was the suitable place for His glorified body. 2. In heaven He prepares for us a place (John xiv. 2) ; He is our advocate with the Father (Heb. ix. 24), and thence He sent the Holy Ghost to His Church (John xvi. 7). 3. Christ's Ascension is for us the cause and model of our spiritual ascension, which consists in the elevation of our thoughts and affections to heavenly things.
LESSONS OF THE ASCENSION, 1. The merit of our faith is greatly increased by the Ascension of our Lord,--"blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed" (John xx. 29). In today's Gospel Christ upbraids the incredulity of the disciples and says that they who believe not shall be condemned. 2. The Ascension increases our hope. 3. It elevates and ennobles our love of Christ. 4. The Ascension is the end and completion of all the mysteries of our Lord's life, and should be celebrated with joy and gladness by all Christians.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part IHe ascended into Heaven. Filled with the Spirit of God, and contemplating the blessed and glorious ascension of our Lord into heaven, the prophet David exhorts all to celebrate that splendid triumph with the greatest joy and gladness. " Clap your hands," said he, " all ye nations: shout unto God with the voice of joy. . . . God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of trumpet."(1) The pastor will hence learn the obligation imposed on him of explaining this mystery with unremitting assiduity, and of taking especial care that the faithful not only see it with the light of faith, and of the understanding, but still more, that, as far as it is in his power to accomplish, they make it their study, with the divine assistance, to reflect its image in their lives and actions.
ARTICLE VI OF THE CREED
He ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
TRIUMPH OF THE ASCENSION, HOW TO BE CELEBRATED BY CHRISTIANS
FIRST PART OF THE ARTICLE; WHAT IT TEACHES US TO BELIEVEWith regard, then, to the exposition of this sixth Article, which has reference principally to the divine mystery of the ascension, we shall begin with its first part, and point out its force and; meaning. That Jesus Christ, having fully accomplished the work of redemption, ascended as man, body and soul, into heaven, the faithful are unhesitatingly to believe; for as God He never forsook heaven, filling as He does all places with His divinity.
The pastor is also to teach that He ascended by His own power, not by the power of another, as did Elias, who was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot;(2) or, as the prophet Habacuc;(3) or Philip, the deacon, who were borne through the air by the divine power, and traversed the distant regions of the earth.(4) Neither; did He ascend into heaven solely by the exercise of His supreme power as God, but also by virtue of the power which He possessed as man; although human power alone was insufficient to raise Him from the dead, yet the virtue with which the blessed soul of Christ was endowed was capable of moving the body as it pleased, and His body, now glorified, readily obeyed its impulsive dominion. Hence, we believe that Christ ascended into heaven as God and man by His own power. We now come to the second part of the Article.
SECOND PART OF THE ARTICLE--A TROPESitteth at the right hand of Gad the Father Almighty. In these words we observe a trope, that is, the changing of a word from its literal to a figurative meaning--a thing not unfrequent in Scripture when, accommodating its language to human ideas, it attributes human affections and human members to God, who, spirit as He is, admits of nothing corporeal. But as among men he who sits at the right hand is considered to occupy the most honorable place, so, transferring the idea to celestial things, to express the glory which Christ as man enjoys above all others, we confess that He sits at the right hand of his Eternal Father.
WHAT THE WORD " SITTETH " MEANS HEREThis, however, does not imply position and figure of body, but declares the firm and permanent possession of royal and supreme power and glory which He received from the Father; as the Apostle says: " raising him up from the dead, and setting him on his right hand in the heavenly places, above all principality, and power, and virtue, and domination, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and he hath subjected all things under his feet."(5) These words manifestly imply that this glory belongs to our Lord in so special a manner that it cannot apply to the nature of any other created being; and hence in another place the Apostle asks: "To which of the angels said he at any time: Sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool?" (6)
HISTORY OF THE ASCENSIONBut the pastor will explain the sense of the Article more at large by detailing the history of the ascension, of which the Evangelist St. Luke has left us an admirable description in the Acts of the Apostles.(7) In his exposition he will observe, in the first place, that all other mysteries refer to the ascension as to their end and completion. As all the mysteries of religion commence with the Incarnation of our Lord, so His sojourn on earth terminates with His ascension into heaven. Moreover, the other Articles of the Creed which regard Christ the Lord show His great humility and lowliness. Nothing-can be conceived more humble, nothing more lowly, than that the Son of God assumed the frailty of our flesh, suffered and died for us; but nothing more magnificently, nothing more admirably, proclaims his sovereign glory and divine majesty than what is contained in the present and preceding Articles, in which we declare that He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now sits at the right hand of his Eternal Father.
REASONS OF THE ASCENSIONWhen the pastor has accurately explained these truths he will next inform the faithful why our Lord ascended into heaven. He ascended because the glorious kingdom of the highest heavens, not the obscure abode of this earth, presented a suitable dwelling place to Him whose glorified body, rising from the tomb, was clothed with immortality. He ascended, not only to possess the throne of glory and the kingdom which He purchased at the price of His blood, but also to attend to whatever regards the salvation of His people. He ascended to prove thereby that His; "kingdom is not of this world,"(8) for the kingdoms of this world are earthly and transient, and are based upon wealth and the power of the flesh; but the kingdom of Christ is not, as the Jews expected, an earthly, but a spiritual and eternal kingdom. Its riches, too, are spiritual, as He shows by placing His throne in the heavens, where they who seek most earnestly the things that are of God abound most in riches and in abundance of all good things, according to these words of St. James: " Hath not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him?"(9)
He also ascended into heaven in order to teach us to follow Him thither in mind and heart, for as by his death and resurrection He bequeathed to us an example of dying and rising again in spirit, so by His ascension He teaches us, though dwelling on earth, to raise ourselves in thought and desire to heaven, confessing that we are " pilgrims and strangers on the earth,"(10) seeking a country, " fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God,"(11) for, says the same Apostle, "our conversation is in heaven."(12)
The extent and unspeakable greatness of the blessings which the bounty of God has bestowed on us with a lavish hand were long before, as the Apostle interprets the Psalmist, sung by David: "Ascending on high, he led captivity captive: he gave gifts to men."(13) On the tenth day after His ascension He sent down the Holy Ghost, with whose power and plenitude He filled the multitude of the faithful then present, and fulfilled His splendid promise: " It is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you."(14)
He also ascended into heaven, according to the Apostle, " that he may appear ... in the presence of God for us,"(15) and discharge for us the office of advocate with the Father. " My little children," says St. John, "these things I write to you, that you may not sin. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Just: and he is the propitiation for our sins."(16) There is nothing from which the faithful should derive greater joy than from the reflection that Jesus Christ is constituted our advocate and intercessor with the Father, with whom His influence and authority are supreme.
Finally, by His ascension He has prepared for us a place, as He had promised, and has entered, as our head, in the name of us all, into the possession of the glory of heaven.(17) Ascending into heaven, He threw open its gates, which had been closed by the sin of Adam; and, as He foretold His disciples at His last supper, secured to us a way by which we may arrive at eternal happiness. In order to demonstrate this by the event. He introduced with Himself into the mansions of eternal bliss the souls of the just whom He had liberated from prison.
ITS OTHER ADVANTAGESA series of important advantages followed in the train of this admirable profusion of celestial gifts. In the first place, the merit of our faith was considerably augmented, because faith has for its object those things which fall not under the senses, but are far raised above the reach of human reason and intelligence. If, therefore, the Lord had not departed from us, the merit of our faith would not be the same, for Jesus Christ has said, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed."(18) In the next place, it contribute? much to confirm our hope. Believing that Christ, as man, ascended into heaven, and placed our nature at , the right hand of God the Father, we are animated with a strong hope that we, as members, shall also ascend thither, to be there united to our head, according to these words of our Lord Himself: "Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me."(19)
Another most important advantage flowing from the ascension , is, that it elevates our affections to heaven and inflames them with the Spirit of God; for most truly has it been said that where our treasure is, there also is our heart.(20) And indeed were Christ the Lord still dwelling on earth, the contemplation of His person and the enjoyment of His presence would absorb all our thoughts, and we should view the author of such blessings only as man, and cherish towards Him a sort of earthly affection; but by His ascension into heaven He has spiritualized our affection for Him, and has made us venerate and love as God Him who, now absent, is the object of our thoughts, not of our senses. This we learn in part from the example of the Apostles, who, while our Lord was personally present with them, seemed to judge of Him in some measure humanly, and in part from these words of our Lord Himself: " It is expedient to you that I go."(21) The affection with which they loved Him when present was to be perfected by divine love, and that by the coming of the Holy Ghost; and therefore He immediately subjoins: "If I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you."
Besides, He thus enlarged His dwelling-place on earth, that is His Church, which was to be governed by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and left Peter, the prince of the Apostles, as chief pastor, and supreme head upon earth of the universal Church. "And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors";(22) and thus seated at the right hand of the Father He continually bestows different gifts on different men. According to the words of St. Paul, " To every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the giving of Christ."(23)
Finally, what was already said of His death and resurrection the faithful will deem not less true of His ascension; for although we owe our redemption and salvation to the passion of Christ, whose merits opened heaven to the just, yet His ascension is not only proposed to us as a model, which teaches us to look on high and ascend in spirit into heaven, but also imparts to us a divine virtue which enables us to accomplish what it teaches.
SermonIn the beautiful panorama of hill country that unrolls to the eye of a pilgrim looking eastward from Jerusalem there is no point of view so picturesque or at the same time so rich in sacred memories, as Mount Olivet. Rough and narrow is the stony path winding to its summit, but its many associations more than repay the cost of ascent. On its lower slopes lies the Garden of Olives, lovingly tended by the Franciscan Fathers, who point out the spots in and around where Christ's agony and prayer began and ended. The brook Cedron that He crossed with His disciples on the sad night of His betrayal He must also have passed in His risen body on His way to the hill, whence while they looked on He was raised up. Alas! a Mohammedan mosque now crowns the spot, and the followers of the prophet point out by favor a stone bearing the imprint of a foot, which, piety suggests, was left by the ascending Christ. Even they, however, reverence the spot consecrated by the last steps on earth of the great prophet Issa.
THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD
BY THE REV. WM. GRAHAM
Since the day when St. Helena built a splendid church on the Holy Hill, whence the " new ark of alliance" was carried to the " royal city that is above," the Church has, every year, on the feast we keep today, solemnly expressed her belief in this final manifestation of Him who " showed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God" (Acts i. 3). "Forty hours," says St. Thomas, "He lay a corpse in the tomb, and forty days he walked and talked among His friends."
We all are "glad and rejoice "today in the glory of our crucified and risen Saviour, and our thoughts mount to the rising, cloud-encircling form of the conquering and triumphant Christ as, clothed in His human nature, He moves towards " light inaccessible." In the joy we feel in His victory over sin and death, we realize the force of His parting words: "If you loved me, you would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father" (John xiv. 28). Heaven, not earth, was His true goal and resting-place, once He had risen from the grave. It was only out of condescension to the needs of the infant Church that He tarried forty days on earth.
So when His task was over, the Creator and Builder of the, "new Israel of God " ascended from Olivet in all the glory and splendor of His risen manhood. He rose to heaven, not like Enoch or Elias or Habacuc, by virtue of a power not theirs, but by His own. He rose to heaven, not paradise, which, in the perpetual "vision of God," He had never left. In heaven above, we are told, He "sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty," to indicate the eternal rest or peace of the blessed; and His position as man, of superiority over all created beings-- a human way at best of expressing superhuman thoughts. To us, brethren, all this is hard, objective fact, not merely subjective and evanescent fancy. Earnestly do we say with the psalmist: "Therefore my heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced: moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; nor wilt thou give thy holy one to see corruption" (Ps. xv. 9, 10).
As we follow in imagination the track of our glorified Saviour mounting to the skies, two lines of thought occur to the mind, one suggesting feelings of joy and gladness in the triumph of the conquering Christ, the other of gratitude in that He made His departure the condition of priceless benefits to ourselves. " But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go " (John xvi.7). There is therefore (i) the impersonal note of joy in His glory, and (2) the personal one of gladness, that He hath not left us orphans, but in mind and spirit and sacramental form is with us still, and that he hath gone to prepare a place for us; and as the Lamb slain before the throne of God liveth to make perpetual intercession for us.
I. The thought that takes rank before all others in the truly Christian heart is one of intense joy at the proclaimed glory, the vindicated honor, the crowned sufferings of Jesus Christ. With the holy enthusiasm of the Psalmist we seem to say: " Lift up your gates, O ye princes, . . . and the King of Glory shall enter in " (Ps. xxiii. 7). Three and forty days before. He was as a sheep thrown over to the wolves. In the anguish of the passion He was mocked, scourged, and buffeted. He had "trodden the winepress alone," and of the nations--aye, even of His own friends--" there was not a man " with him (Isa. Ixiii. 3). " Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra, this beautiful one in his robe " (Isa. Ixiii. i). Alas! He became as " a leper," " a worm, and no man," " a man of sorrows." Why then was his apparel red, and His "garments like theirs that tread in the winepress? "Who looked about," and there was none to help." Who sought, "and there was none to give aid" (Isa. lxiii. 2, 5). But we are glad, "for winter is now past, the rain" [of sorrows] is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land, "the voice of God's loved one is sweet, and His face comely" (Cant. ii. 11-14). "Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in his holy place? "Surely" the innocent in hands, and clean of heart . . . He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and mercy from God his saviour" (Ps. xxiii. 3-5).
We all glory today in that Christ's life of humiliation is over, the bitter cup of woe has been drained to the dregs. The "man of sorrows "has given place to the form" beautiful amongst the sons of men"; the new David, clad in the vesture of glorified humanity, victorious over the Goliath of sin and death, mounts through trackless space thronged by an escort of ministering angels; and we worship God in heartfelt gladness, who has thus changed deepest sorrow into highest joy, and has so honored "the lowness of our common human nature." " He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death. . . . For which cause God also hath exalted him" (Phil. ii. 8, 9).
There is. no higher object of thought than God; no worthier nor more interesting subject of reflection than the life of the Incarnate God, and the phases of His divine unveiling, from the earliest prophecy to His ascension into heaven. It is study and prayer and the highest form of worship combined. It is a frame of mind that, pondering on the glory of the ascending Christ, finds expression in that great outburst of song and knowledge and adoration--the Gloria in excelsis,--We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we thank Thee, not for what Thou hast done for us, but for what Thou art in Thyself, apart from and independent of creatures, and what Thou wouldst have been, even if created intelligence had never learned to know or love. Then Propter magnam gloriam Tuam. We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory. It is in this spirit of reverent and impersonal worship that we should consider the mystery honored in today's feast. We rejoice not for what God does to us, but for what He is in Himself. In this way do we lose sight of our own individuality, and mingle our praises with the great stream of melody that flows fast by " the throne of God and of the Lamb."
II. Our first tribute of love and duty, therefore, to the ascending Christ is one of unselfish and impersonal triumph in His glory; our next, a personal outpouring of gratitude for the blessings accruing to us from His departure. Time and experience have verified His own authoritative words, " It is expedient to you that I go" (John xvi. 7). And yet these words must have sounded strange when first heard on the eve of His Passion, and echoed much more strangely on Olivet as they raised their tear-dimmed eyes towards the cloud enwrapping their Master as He soared aloft. He had been all in all to them. He had instilled into them unlimited and unquestioning confidence in His person, so that He was the very centre and pivot of their lowly lives No eastern king was more absolute in his kingdom. He had exacted unreasoning faith in His office and mission; all the more so, as they were dimly conscious of what His mission and office were. His demands on their credulity, as we should say nowadays, were startling in their boldness. Light and leading, hope and saving for body and soul, they were to seek trustfully in Him. They built upon His presence and guardianship all the more as He had detached them from relatives, business, and human friendship; and indeed, though not appearing to know fully who He was, yet they felt in the words of their spokesman Peter, that He had "the words of eternal life," and to whom else, then, could they go ? Yet now, He tells them, it is expedient He should leave them--His weak, sorrowing, inconsolable followers. It is like a captain or pilot telling an inexperienced crew just putting out to sea that his departure is desirable; a father leaving a young, helpless family on the threshold of life; a trusted teacher quitting his pupils just as their minds are opening to his lessons; a shepherd leaving his sheep in the midst of wolves, and saying that the flock will fare better in his absence. But " my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord." Our Lord's short life--representing the Godhead visibly--closing with the Ascension, was as a seed dropped into the earth, and springing up and bearing fruit more than a hundredfold. In our shortsightedness, perhaps, we are inclined to think that in the visible presence and companionship of the Incarnate Word on earth religion would irresistibly sweep through men's souls.
But, like the disciples, we know Him whom we have believed, and are convinced that the gifts He left behind and sent on His departure far transcend in value the hearing and seeing with carnal eyes and ears, and handling with bodily contact the word of life. Is He not clearer and surer to the eye of faith today than to the fallible impression of sense were He still among us in the flesh ? Has not the Church gained rather than lost by His departure? Is not her membership increased by twice as many millions as were the individuals composing the timid band that awaited the coming of the Holy Ghost on the first Pentecost? Is there a jot or tittle lost of the recorded sayings and doings of the Master? And do they not come home to us after nineteen centuries with greater force and unction and insight than to those who saw and heard them? Is He not better known and loved and served in the new "Israel of God" than in the old? Are not our Marthas and Marys as earnest and fervent in work and prayer as were the sisters of Lazarus, whom He called forth from the grave? Are the dauntless missionaries of the cross, who witness to Christ either at home, to a scoffing and scorning generation of unbelievers who have heard, or abroad, to those. who have not heard, less zealous or laborious than those who were told out of Christ's own lips to go and preach the gospel to all nations? But we could see Him and hear Him and even touch " the hem of his garment," you will say. " Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed." Faith is a safe avenue to Christ. The mother of the Zebedees saw and heard Jesus in the flesh, yet how low and earthly her views of His kingdom put side by side with those of a Catherine of Sienna or St. Theresa?
In these and many other ways impalpable and unseen we realize the expediency of our Lord's departure. The loss of His visible presence was the Church's gain. It was God's will He should be known, felt, understood, and valued when gone. How truly did He say of Himself, " What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter" (John xiii. 7). To each age, as the gaze of Christendom is riveted on His life and character, and mind and heart strain forward to comprehend what Jesus said and did, the words of St. John are verified, " These things his disciples did not know at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things to him " (John xii. 16). He did not leave us orphans. He ascended on high to obtain gifts for men, and foremost among them all, the gift of the Holy Ghost. Pentecost is the completion and revelation of the hidden meaning of the ascension. We need not dive into reasons why the departure of Christ should be a fountain of blessing to men or why there should be any connection at all between the coming down of the Holy Ghost and the going away of our Lord.
One thing we are sure of, and it is that this connection is a necessary one, inasmuch as our Lord says, " If I go not away, the comforter will not come." The advent of the Holy Spirit was the first fruits of our Lord's ascension. His special function or officer is to be the Church's soul or vital principle, manifesting Himself! in speech and action till the end of time. Not that our Lord ceased to be with His Church. His departure in His human form intensified His real though unseen presence. He withdrew in the flesh to return in the spirit. He is among us "all days, even to the end of the world," not only as an influence by the example of the holy life He led and the far-reaching grace and unction of His moral teaching, but, personally, in the fulness of His humanity, in this Blessed Sacrament; and as God, in the Third Person of the adorable Trinity, in the plenitude of the Holy Ghost poured out at Pentecost, and still brooding over and quickening with life the Church as a body and her members singly. The work of sanctification and enlightenment still goes on. The Spirit that Christ sent to be the soul of His mystical body is ever bringing back to consciousness the words and mind of Jesus, and applying them to the needs and wants of passing time. Teachers and doctors and Popes and councils make known to fresh generations of men the thoughts and meaning of the Lord, ever drawing from the treasure of Him who was the way, the truth, and the light, things new and old, ever speaking as those " having authority": in the words of the first council at Jerusalem, as "seemeth good to the Holy Ghost and to us." In the Ascension, it is true, Jesus was removed from sight but revealed in faith; and faith brings the invisible God nearer to us than bodily eye or ear. If, then, we rejoice and are glad today in our Christian inheritance, if we trust our spiritual guides as men "taught of God," if we are sure with the highest form of certainty that Christ's words " shall not pass away," if we live on the new "Mount Zion," the city of the living God, are dwellers in His holy house, shaken by fire and wind, and filled by the inrush of the descending Spirit, if the Lord is truly our shepherd and feeds us in green pastures, we owe it to the solemn uprising and departure of our beloved Lord from Olivet.
Furthermore, by His solemn entry into heaven Christ opened the gates of heaven closed against the race by sin. We are immortal spirits in perishable bodies, and our place since redemption, and by virtue of it, is heaven. The Head of the great body we belong to is there, and to be members of this body, the Church triumphant, we are destined. Man, it is true, is part of nature, its head and chief; but he is more. By the grace of God, he can transcend it. Nature, too, and man's nature particularly, is beautiful, as all the handiwork of God is; but grace is distinct from and superior to it. Man thereby is raised to a state or condition above nature, its capacities and its possibilities. Now, the natural term, or goal, so to say, of this new or higher state, "this new creation," this "new creature," as St. Paul describes it, is heaven. Lost and closed by sin, it has been regained and reopened in the Ascension of Christ "who led captivity captive" (Eph. iv. 8). "I go," said He to His disciples, "to prepare a place for you, . . . that where I am, you also may be" (John xiv. 3).
Nor is His presence in heaven inactive in our regard. His presence there is an intense, perpetual act of intercessory prayer for us. He pleads unceasingly for us, and His intercession gives worth and value to our own. The wounds in hand and foot and side, the pierced heart, cry for pity to the throne of God: "For Jesus is not entered into the holies made with hands, . . . but into heaven itself, that he may appear now in the presence of God for us" (Heb. ix. 24). "Having therefore a great high priest that hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God: . . . let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace" (Heb. iv. 14, 16).
CONCLUSION. We have been dealing today with facts and inferences which, in view of the aims and pursuits that occupy the world of our times, may seem strange and unmeaning, the echoes almost of an unknown and unintelligible tongue. It is like going up into cloudland. The words of the angel to the disciples are often said to us in reproach: "Men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven?" This Jesus is taken away from you as any other. Look down to earth. It is the only heaven we are sure of. Seek not the things that are above as empty gazers of the sky. Look only to the visible and the present. This is the gospel we often hear preached today, and which finds, alas! a ready echo in many a heart. Faith and hope and love based on heavenly motion are the transcendent gifts of the Holy Glost seen spurned or neglected. The natural man understandeth not the things that are of God. A holy life, a supernatural life, is deemed visionary, idle, superstitious. If there is to be any virtue at all, it is to be only within the sphere of sense and nature to round and perfect both, such as the manly virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, provided they strike not deeper nor rise higher than the life that "now is."
It is idle to speak of the expediency of the Ascension or, indeed, of the supernatural at all to such as these; nor do I, except by way of warning. We live in an age of no belief, or half belief, or make belief. But the truth, " The word of the Lord endureth forever," and our attitude towards it, can make no difference. God is still in the world, behind its forces, and guiding and controlling them, even though men neither see nor believe in Him. Men and women are still His creatures, the works of His hands--adorned with grace and destined for glory. We are on earth, it is true, but our eyes and heads, aye, and hearts too, point to the skies. No sophist, nor school of sophists, with all their arts of style and argument, have ever yet persuaded mankind at large that life ends at the grave, and that the happiness we crave and strive for and can never reach on earth is an empty dream, never to be realized. No! God made nothing in vain. We are made and destined for a higher, larger, and nobler life than the present, of which the Ascension forcibly reminds us. It reminds us, too, of the life of grace, the life of true, pure holiness over and above mere natural rectitude, a necessary precedent to the life of glory; and which our Lord, by withdrawing Himself visibly, enables us, if we will, to live.
Let us therefore lift up our hearts to heaven where Christ has gone "to prepare a place for us." We have not seen Him ascend; but we know by faith He is there. He is the head of the mystic body of which we are members, and limbs should join the head. "Ubi caput praecessit ibi spes vocatur et corporis." Be faithful, then, to grace, lead a life not of pleasure, but of duty. Peace is only found where God placed it--in a dutiful, self-denying life. " Therefore," in the words of St. Paul, "if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. . . . When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with him in glory" (Col.iii. 1,2,4).
1. Ps. xlvi. i, 6.
2. 4 Kings ii. n. 3. Dan. xiv. 35.
4. Acts viii. 39. 5. Dionys. Areop. Epist. ix.
5. Eph. i, 20-22; Athan. Serm. I contra Arian.; Basil, lib. de Spir. Sanct. c. vi.
6. Heb. i. 13. 7. Acts i.
8. John xviii. 36. 9. James ii. 5. 10. Heb. xi. 13, 14.
11. Eph. ii. 19. 12. Philip, iii. 20.
8. John xviii. 36. 9. James ii. 5. 10. Heb. xi. 13, 14.
11. Eph. ii. 19. 12. Philip, iii. 20.
13. Ps. lxvii. 19; Eph. iv. 8. 14. John xvi. 7; Acts i. 4, 5.
15. Heb. ix. 24. 16. I John ii. i, 2.
17. John xiv. 2.
18. John xx. 29. 19. John xvii. 24. 20. Matt. vi. 21.
21. John xvi. 7. 22. Eph. iv. 11.
23. Eph. iv. 7.
Music: Viri Galilaei by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina