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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension

          This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension, that event 40 days after Easter when Jesus ascended to Heaven.  The Church reminds us that though the method Jesus took to leave the sight of His disciples was that of rising up on the clouds, we are not really to see the Ascension as a matter of locomotion as if Heaven were in outer space somewhere.  Jesus could have chosen any manner of returning to the Father, bringing His Humanity and Divinity back to Heaven, from which He had descended some 33 years earlier.
          It is important to note that the two angels that appeared told the disciples that when Jesus returns in the Second Coming it will be in the same manner (riding the clouds).  St. Paul affirms this as well.  Which is one reason why no Christian should be seduced by frauds who suddenly arise and say they are Jesus come again.  We will not have to wonder Who it is when Jesus returns.  It will be clear to all, believer and unbeliever alike.
          That, however, is not overly important to my reflection.  Why is the Ascension important?  As always, I must remind readers that I am not qualified or capable of giving a comprehensive treatise on the matter, but I can offer some personal reflections.  First, of course, Jesus tells us that it is better if He go because then He will send the Spirit.  And also, Jesus does remain with us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament.
          The Ascension is also, I think, a reminder to all of us of our own destiny.  Jesus, risen from the dead, no longer fits in this world.  His glorified Body is not subject to the laws of nature, as even His Humanity seems to belong on a higher plane.
          Jesus, although He is God, as the Son of Man is the “firstborn of many brethren.”  His Resurrection foretells our own, as does His Ascension.
          Catholics can sometimes fall into the trap of a sort of dualism, pitting the body against the soul.  I remember seeing a bumper sticker many years ago that read, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” 
          I liked it.  But I now realize that it is wrong.  We are human beings and human beings are spiritual creatures.  We are matter and spirit, body and soul.  We are not souls trapped in bodies; we are humans, body and soul.  Yes, it’s true that our bodies will one day die, and that it is impossible to kill a spirit.  Since they are not material, our souls will, by nature, last forever.  One thing we often forget, however, is that our bodies will also live forever.
          We say in the Creed that we believe in “the resurrection of the body.”  Our bodies will rise, and will be ours forever.  It makes no matter if they have decayed.  God created them once; He will do it again.  For those who are children of God, our bodies will be glorified, like Christ’s, and will enjoy the eternal and unimaginable joys of Heaven.
          The Ascension reminds us that this Earth is no more the lasting home of the children of God than it is for the Only Begotten Son of God.  Is that how we live, though, even us Christians?  I will follow with some thoughts on that question later this week.
Note:  I have tried to give an accurate theological understanding of the Ascension, though to be sure there are many who can do so with much more precision.  Please refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a starting point.  And feel free to email me some feedback.