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Our Lady of the Rosary - Marian Retreat
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present meditation and reflection is on the Second Glorious Mystery, the Ascension of Our Lord from earth to Heaven. With this, the Second Glorious Mystery, we complete our reflections on Christ's sensibly perceptible stay on earth. When God became Man He began His earthly and, I qualify, sensibly perceptible Presence when He was conceived by Mary at Nazareth. As we begin this meditation, I cannot exaggerate the importance of realizing that for thirty some years God became Man and was on earth visibly, sensibly perceptible that since the Ascension God become Man, I repeat become Man, is indeed in Heaven at the Right hand of His heavenly Father, but He is also and that word also is at the heart of our Catholic Faith He is also on the earth in the Holy Eucharist. Christ then completed this earthly and I then repeat visibly perceptible stay, He completed this kind of earthly stay on Ascension Thursday forty days after Easter.
Jesus Christ Is Alive and Present on Earth
We're still on the introduction. It is also critically important to stress that once Christ rose from the dead, Jesus Christ remains Jesus Christ. The only difference and the only limitation is on our side. He did, indeed, ascend to Heaven but I repeat and it is no mere verbal repetition; the Catholic Church is only, underline the adverb, only as strong as her bishops, priests, religious and the laity believe that Jesus Christ is alive and is present on earth, True God and True Man, in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. But that the same identical Jesus Christ - shall we say also, let's drop the word also - is present in Heaven. In Heaven He is seen by the angels and saints. On earth, He is seen only with the eyes of Faith, but objectively, really It is the same Jesus in Heaven since His Ascension and on earth in the Eucharist.
The Ascension as a Fact of History
Our focus of this meditation is on the Ascension itself. On the event that took place at a definite time, in a definite place, with a definite purpose and with definite witnesses; they've left us a record of what they had heard and seen. We plan then, prayerfully, to reflect on Our Lord's Ascension under these aspects: The Ascension as a fact of history, the Ascension as a Mystery of Faith, and the Ascension as a powerful motive for our spiritual life.
No Hallucination on the Part of the Apostles
First then, the Ascension as a fact of history: Until fairly modern times, there would have been no special need for stressing that Our Lord's Bodily Ascension into Heaven actually took place. But some biblical exegetes, - I'm tempted to put biblical exegetes in quotation marks. I've coined the words biblical [endogetes]. It's not what they get ex-(out of the Bible). It's what their imaginations puts into the Bible. There are some who have begun to question this fact of Christ's Ascension. They are, by the way, the same ones who call into question, logically given their premises, the reality of Christ's Bodily Resurrection from the dead. All kinds of psychological, I want to say, psycho-pathological terms have been coined. No! Three adverbs - Christ did actually, factually and historically first rise from the dead on Easter Sunday. That was no hallucination on the part of the Apostles. Christ actually, factually and historically spoke and appeared to His followers on earth for forty days after He rose from the grave. And Christ actually, factually and historically left this earth, and I repeat the expression, in sensibly perceptible form on Ascension Thursday.
Christianity Is Factual
To question these three facts as historically true (and the human mind is made to question), all you've got to do is listen to a three-year old child - needless to say the mind has not yet been fully developed - asking questions. It takes no great intellectual capacity to ask questions and then write learned books questioning. I repeat to question these three facts that we've identified as historically true is to question the historicity of any past human events of comparable antiquity. Why? In the, the years that I've taught what we call Fundamental Theology, kept hitting, hammering, repeating, "Listen men, these are facts. Christianity is not Buddhism. When I've taught Buddhism, I know exactly what I'm teaching. Christianity is factual." There is nothing, I don't say two thousand years ago but far less in antiquity that we have anything (this is provable), anything near the historical evidence we have for these three facts: Christ's Bodily Resurrection, His Bodily stay on earth, and then His Bodily Ascension into Heaven so much for the Ascension as a fact of history.
Ascension as a Mystery of Faith
We might, for a moment, remind ourselves that the words fact and faith are not mutually exclusive. Just because something is a fact does not mean that we cannot also believe what we know, as in this case, to be historically true. We know on historical grounds that Christ rose from the dead, remained on earth and ascended into Heaven. But then we also believe and our Faith probes more deeply, more profoundly and we're able to see far more clearly the meaning and significance of Christ's historical Ascension than we ever be able to do except for what the Church calls the Lumen Fidei, the Light of Faith. What are we saying? We are saying that what occurred on Ascension Thursday has such fathomless meaning that even in Heaven; we'll be able to understand more clearly than we do now, but even in Heaven never exhaustibly. Why? And that's the key, that's the key that the human mind, human mind keeps applying to whatever it believes. Why? Why Jesus, the Son of God who became the Son of Mary returned, as we may say, to the heavenly Father by Whom again we can say He was first sent to our visible world of space and time.
Why Did Our Lord Ascend into Heaven?
We repeat the question. Why? Why did Our Lord ascend into Heaven? And then with the light of faith assisted by grace we give some answers.
To Complete the Glory That Was Due Him
First, Christ Our Lord ascended into Heaven in order to complete the glory that was due to Him by taking possession of the Heaven for which the human race was made.
Earth Is Not the Destiny of Our Existence
Second reason. How this needs to be underlined and circled and etched in bronze. This earth is not the permanent abode for us human beings. Let me repeat: this earth is not the permanent abode for us human beings. God became Man (do you hear it?) He became Man. He wants us to identify with Him, we human beings with Him, a Man. How we need, no adverb I could use would adequately express how deep is the need, let me call it, desperate need to know, to know on Faith that our stay on earth is only a place of preparation and not the destiny of our existence. How we need that! And I wouldn't dare say that you need it more than I. Why did Christ ascend into Heaven? Because He became Man, one of us! To teach us human beings what we constantly, not just on feast days or on Sundays or even just daily, but all day to keep telling ourselves, open your eyes, don't be a fool! This is not; this is not the place of your destiny.
Christ As God-Man Had a Right to Heaven
Third reason. God became a real Man with a real human nature and with emphasis a real human will! Consequently, Christ as then God-Man had a right to Heaven. He had a claim of the reward. This sounds like strange language - it's our Faith. He became Man. He worked. He suffered. He died and I keep repeating, using His human will! Consequently, we repeat the question: Why did Jesus ascend into Heaven? Because He deserved it for His perfect fulfillment of His Father's Will. If anyone deserved Heaven, it was surely He.
He Had a Claim to the Fullness of Beatitude
Number four. We may say, legitimately, that in one sense Christ was already rewarded for His faithful service of His heavenly Father by His Resurrection from the dead. He was glorified. He became immortal, impassible meaning He could no longer experience any suffering or pain. Nevertheless, there is a difference, the Church tells us, between the happiness that Christ enjoyed during the forty days that He was still on earth and the fullness of the Beatitude that He merited and we've got to use the word merited regarding Jesus. Synonyms: He merited, He won, He gained, He deserved, He had a right to, He had a claim to the fullness of Beatitude for the fullness of His humble, obedient service until He expired on the Cross. Two words that should always be associated: obedience and happiness; service and beatitude. The fullness of the Beatitude that Jesus as Man had a right to; He was not to experience until He entered Heaven. We're on the Mystery of the Ascension. And as with any Mystery we fathom it's meaning to the degree which we understand why.
Jesus Went to Heaven for Us
Number five. Christ's Ascension was not only (though it was also) but not only the reward that He won by His own perfect fulfillment of the Father's Will. God became Man in the Person of Jesus and He therefore ascended into Heaven, first of all because He deserved the Heaven to which He went. But this number five is the bridge between the reasons why Christ ascended into Heaven being, collectively, the reward for His own total submission to the Will of the Father and Christ's Ascension into Heaven for us! In other words, the Mystery of the Ascension ultimately unfathomable but in greater and greater measure intelligible takes meaning not only from the Person of Christ, it takes profound meaning also from ourselves. Jesus went to Heaven for us!
And now we begin in number six to identify some reasons why Jesus ascended into Heaven to benefit all of us. I draw needless to say, not on my own wisdom but on the Wisdom of the Church for now nineteen centuries.
Our Faith Is Strengthened
First, because by Jesus ascension into Heaven our Faith is thus strengthened. We are now called upon to believe more and are able to believe more deeply because of Christ's Ascension. We see now that the God who became Man is still Man! The Jesus Christ in whom we believe. Hope this won't sound like a platitude, no platitude to me! The Jesus Christ in whom we believe is no mere historical memory! Can we legitimately say that we believe on the base of historical evidence that a man like Augustus Caesar lived? Yes. That Cicero, the great Roman orator spoke his orations to a spellbound audience, or Livi or Tacitus all more or less contemporaries of Jesus? But what a difference, what a difference between believing in those historical personages and believing in Jesus Christ! He is a present Reality. He is alive! Then I thought I would just for the sake of memory provide a few alliteratives: He is alive and aware of us and accessible to us and adorable by us here and now as God become Man. Did you know we could talk to Him and how I like to say this, listen because of His Ascension, of course part of that is Resurrection. Did you know, did you know that Jesus hears us? Did you know with bodily ears, did you know that? I trust He's smiling when I say this to you. I know Hes saying to Himself, of course, of course!
Our Hope Is Deepened
Secondly, we're examining the reasons why Christ ascended into Heaven in order to benefit us. Our hope is vastly deepened. We look forward to a Heaven in which the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, who died on the Cross and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, is awaiting us when He told us He would go to Heaven and prepare a place for us my friends that was no figure of speech. His promise of going to prepare a place for us is no rhetorical fancy; it is an assured reality.
Our Love for God and for Man Increased
Number three. Our love for God and for our fellow man is increased immensely because of Christ's Ascension into Heaven. Let's go back over what Jesus said. He said and use the imperative that he had to ascend in order to send the Holy Spirit and He did so on Pentecost Sunday. O we can ruminate and speculate and write all kind of learned books. In the last analysis, we believe for reasons best known to the Holy Trinity unless the First Person had sent the Second Person there would be no Redemption and none of us could hope to reach Heaven; condition number one. But we also believe that unless the Second Person had sent the Third Person, well, Christ will have indeed merited, to use that verb again, have merited for us the grace we need and desperately need to reach heavenly glory, but those graces would not have been available. The graces won by Christ's Passion and Death were made available - this is your Faith and mine - because the Second Person of the Holy Trinity become Man sent the Holy Spirit, the Third Person on Pentecost Sunday. These events should always be associated: Good Friday, when Christ died on Calvary, Easter Sunday, when He rose from the dead, Ascension Thursday when He now as Man went to Heaven and Pentecost Sunday when and we're just quoting Him, because He ascended into Heaven therefore (that's His logic not ours) we believe it - therefore He sent the Holy Spirit and provided us until the end of time with the graces we need without which none of us could ever hope to see the Face of God.
Jesus Won Heaven by His Suffering and Death
Number four. What are we doing? We are reflecting now on the meaning of Christ's Ascension as beneficial to ourselves. Our patience here on earth becomes understandable and the sufferings we endure here on earth become explainable but always on Faith. Why? Because we believe that Jesus Christ won Heaven by His suffering and death, won Heaven for Himself and how we need to be told this - and won Heaven for us! Except for His ascension we could not and verb is we could not endure the price it costs to serve God faithfully here - no matter what words we use, they're cheap - in this valley of tears. He went to Heaven. His going to Heaven brought back down to earth the strength we need and dear God how much strength we need to hold on believing youre giving us what we need to join You in the Home You went to prepare for us. In the light of what we've been saying you'd almost say well why bring up number three in our triad in this meditation?
The Ascension as a Powerful Motive
All that we've been saying so far is already profoundly motivational. But I thought it was worth stressing Christ's Ascension into Heaven as a powerful motive for us to live not just a casual or ordinary but if need be a heroic spiritual life on earth. I've said this publicly and made sure its in print: the only kinds of families that will survive into the twenty-first century are heroic families. I repeat it, with conviction. The only kinds of priests who will survive into the twenty-first century are heroic priests. And the only kinds of religious that will survive as religious are heroic religious. No question about it. We are living in the age of martyrs. You don't become a martyr unless you are powerfully motivated. What then we need in this life is sustained motivation. Our wills must be constantly supported with credible grounds for, and I choose just three virtues, I could choose thirty.
Our Wills Need Constant Motivation
Our wills must be constantly supported with credible grounds for practicing charity, in spite of the selfishness, the cruelty in the world in which we live. There's only one word to describe it - it is demonic cruelty. Human beings, women, naturally - they just are not, they are not that cruel to murder the unborn children in their wombs - they're not. It is demonic! We're living in this kind of a world and we're not just living in the world at large. We're living in our own, immediate world of people with whom we associate day after day. If we're to continue practicing the charity that we must on Christ's command to reach the Heaven to which we aspire, we better be powerfully motivated. You just don't, by all the rules of human psychology; you just don't love people who don't love you. You just don't! Yet Christ tells us we must! Our wills need constant motivation to continue practicing humility in spite of the atmosphere of pride in which we are living and in spite of our own strong, natural tendency - all of us, no exceptions - we're all naturally, powerfully prone to control and dominate other people. We need, how we need, constant support for our wills to remain faithful in our chastity, in spite of the sex-mania everywhere. And of course, in spite of the constant drive of our own human passion.
We Must Completely Abandon Ourselves to Him
All of these virtues and others that we know we must practice are supernatural. This means we are superhuman in other words, that are naturally impossible. We must constantly be daily provided with the prospect with being able to do what naturally we cannot do. So we ask ourselves, where do we get the motive? It is in the realization that Jesus is in Heaven that He made it. He was Human, so are we. His Humanity, we believe unlike ours did not have the drive of concupiscence. But let me tell you, it is especially the suffering that Jesus endured that my mind must find reasons, rational, credible reasons for enduring in this life. Christ made it and He assured us all we have to do, but we have to do it - is rely on Him and here we could begin another retreat. When Jesus, the night before He died said, "Without Me you can do nothing, let's take that literally! If we hope to reach the Heaven where He awaits us, we must completely - no other adverb will do - we must completely abandon ourselves to Him.
Lord Jesus, we believe like us You were conceived, born and died but, like us, dear Jesus (and this is our hope) You ascended into Heaven because You want us to join You there. We, dear Savior, are looking forward to our own - pardon the expression - Ascension Thursday, but we need You. Keep enlightening our minds to see only Your Will and give us the strength that only You can give to do it, no matter what the cost because, dear Savior, Heaven is worth anything we can endure on earth. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
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