25 May The Feast of the Ascension
Today is the Feast of the Ascension.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“And the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God.”–Mark xvi, 19.
The various feasts which we, as children of the Church, are called upon to celebrate throughout the year, invite us to consider, with special attention, and, as it were, to behold in spirit the mysteries of which that tender Mother makes mention herself, in so solemn a manner to us all.
This is particularly so on the festival of today, which commemorates the Ascension of Christ into heaven. We gaze with the disciples into the cloudless sky as if we fain would pierce the secrets of the celestial realm beyond, and witness the entrance of Christ therein. Then the thought arises within us: “O happy Apostles! chosen to behold the Ascension of the Lord; would that we could know the feelings which filled your hearts when you saw Him surrounded by a luminous cloud, disappear from view.”
Beloved in Christ Jesus, I will tell you: Unspeakable longing after heaven took possession of them when they beheld their beloved Master enter therein. The same longing should also fill our heart. O Mary, Queen of heaven, obtain for us that same longing which animated your immaculate heart, to follow your divine Son to the abode of eternal bliss. I speak in the most holy name of Jesus for the greater honor and glory of God.
As I have already said, the feelings of the disciples, as they stood gazing upon Jesus as he faded from their view, were concentrated in one ardent desire for heaven, to be and remain with him there forever. Yes; and so also would we have felt had we been present on Mount Olivet with Mary, the Apostles and disciples, when Christ raised Himself from the ground, blessed them, and, soaring aloft, was seen no more.
“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking up to heaven?” was the question put to them by the Angels; and, my brethren, had I been present, I would have said: “O dear Angels, how can you ask? for, while the favored few, whom Christ selected to witness His wondrous ascension, did certainly congratulate Jesus upon entering His eternal home, they also sighed, from their very hearts, ‘O that we, too, could leave this earth, to be and remain with our beloved Saviour in heaven.'”
This ardent desire is the more important because it is the fundamental condition without which we can not follow the admonition contained in the succeeding words spoken by the angelic messengers: “This Jesus, Who is taken up from you, so shall come again.” He will exact a rigid account from every man as to whether he has fulfilled that end for which God called him into existence, redeemed him, and permitted him to belong to the kingdom of His Church.
Upon the eve of His Ascension, Christ declared that He would send His disciples to the confines of the earth; and that they might be better enabled to proclaim His word, He would prepare them with the strength of the Holy Ghost. For only those who combat and conquer, who work for and with Jesus, who complete the work on earth for which God created them, and remain faithful, receive a beauteous crown in heaven.
Besides the strength God the Holy Ghost bestows, that divine Spirit also implants in the heart another disposition–a longing to accomplish something for God. This is confirmed by numerous examples of heroic actions, performed by those who, devoting their lives to sanctity, listened to and acted upon the inspirations of that divine Spirit. What wonderful things have been accomplished, even according to the testimony of our own experience, at the price of innumerable sacrifices and hardships, from the impulse and through the strength of this ardent desire! This has also its perfect application in the great affair of salvation.
Whoever meditates as he should upon heaven, feels strong enough to labor, to struggle, and to suffer for it, in faithful perseverance, unto the end. And what should be more easy than for every faithful child of the Church to excite in his heart this longing desire? Consider how many and what powerful motives there are to increase it therein! Let us devote some moments to these considerations; and with the divine blessing, even as the words fall from my lips, this desire for heaven will arise and increase in our hearts.
Behold, in spirit, Christ ascending to heaven, and say, within yourselves, Dear Jesus, where are you going? O beautiful country! how I sigh after thee. Here is the land of our exile; there, our eternal home. Here are hunger and thirst; there, an excess of delight. Here, lamentation and wailing; there, the security of bliss. Here is poverty and nakedness; there, the glorious vesture of heaven, decorated with the diamonds of merit, acquired by our good works upon earth. Here we have no lasting dwelling; there, when the Christian enters upon the reward of a well-spent life, he can exclaim: “Heaven is mine; all is mine; I enter the dwelling which Jesus prepared for me, and ascend a royal throne, whereon I will be crowned with a radiant diadem forever.”
Here there is a never-ceasing sound of wailing, as human hearts grow faint with the burden of sorrow; there, in heaven, the eternal Alleluia resounds, and never for one moment does the celestial music of angelic voices cease. Here is the labor; there, rest and quiet–the reward; and O what a reward! Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; nor hath it ever entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for those who love Him. Here we must endure mortification and persecution; there, we shall enjoy a peace which passeth all understanding.
Here we are subject to temptations; there, no thought of evil can come. Here it is constant struggle; there, is the triumph attained. Here the world, and those who are of the world, strive only for the possession of creatures; there, the sole desire of the blessed is to see and possess God Himself in His infinite perfection and beatitude. Here a shadow rests upon our brightest hours,– the thought of the impending separation from our loved ones by death; there, neither sorrow nor death can enter; and the union among the blessed and with God will be eternal.
Blessed Egidius! when we think of these striking contrasts, we can not wonder that the very mention of heaven–“Paradise”–threw your soul into an ecstatic state, while your ardent desire after its joys raised your body from the ground as if your spirit longed to soar.
Yes, beautiful Heaven! the ardent desire of my heart, who will give me wings like a dove, to fly from this valley of tears, and rest on the mountain of bliss? But this necessitates labor, struggling, suffering. And what, beloved in Christ, will make this suffering light? what but this ardent desire of heaven!
See the laborer as he goes forth to his daily toil, willing to endure all, and leave himself no rest, for he knows that the more diligently he works, the greater will be his gain. And daily experience proves, that it is the same in every walk of life; yet how poor and trifling, how infinitely small, is the richest guerdon which the world can give compared to the reward which awaits us in heaven for every meritorious’ work performed by us on earth. How worthless should the world’s rewards appear when we think how soon they pass away! How infinitely great should we deem the ones which never, never end! How brave and determined the warrior who knows that, if he return from the conflict with the laurel wreath of victory, his fortune is assured! How willingly he risks that life, which is to him so precious, for the hope of a possible reward. How bravely, therefore, my dearest Christians, should not you be able to combat, having in view the hope of Heaven– the crown of eternal victory!
Men have borne, with the greatest patience, the most painful operations, with a view to saving life or limb. Strive, therefore, to bear with patience the sorrows and trials of earth, to save your immortal souls. Oh, let us never forget the heaven which may be all our own! Let us think of it, not only while we celebrate this glorious festival, but long after it has passed away, that we may so live that, when we close our eyes to earthly things, we may, without delay, ascend to that bright and glorious home to dwell with Christ in Heaven for evermore. Amen.
“They going forth preached every-where, and the Lord working withal, confirming the word with signs that followed.”–Mark xvi, 20.
Jesus had entered into glory, and still the disciples remained spell-bound, gazing after Him with irrepressible yearning to follow Him to that heavenly home, whither He went to prepare a dwelling for the souls He had redeemed.
Suddenly, as the Evangelist St. Luke relates, there appeared to the Apostles two Angels clad in white robes of golden glory, who thus addressed them: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen Him going into heaven.” This is the explanation of the above: “As surely as you have witnessed the departure of your blessed Saviour, so surely will He come again. He will come not in His humiliation, but in the full splendor of His incomparable Majesty, to you, as well as to the whole world.”
Jesus raised Himself on high and entered heaven as Conqueror over death and hell; and once again He will come, not as Reconciler, but as Judge. Can we endure the penetrating glance of His all-seeing eye; that eye which will, as it were, search into the very marrow of our souls? It depends very much upon ourselves. If we have during life been disposed as were the disciples on Mount Olivet on Ascension-day, there will be no terror for us in the coming of Christ at the end of the world.
O Mary, Queen of angels, to whom it was granted to be assumed body and soul into heaven, and to sit enthroned at the right hand of your divine Son, bless and protect us, that we may one day behold the bliss of heaven! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor of God!
Deep in the human heart there lingers sweet hope of ascending at last to heaven. There is scarce a sinner, be he ever so abandoned, that does not cherish the hope that by some unlooked-for grace he will behold his glorified Saviour. It is true that sincere, even if tardy, repentance can win forgiveness for any crime, no matter how great; yet we must not expect to be called by wonderful ways; but, to insure to ourselves the eventual possession of that exquisite bliss, we must, during our whole lives, look up to heaven with affections similar to those of the disciples as they looked after Jesus when He soared aloft beyond the skies. It was, above all, the wish to enter heaven with Him which animated them when they, after He had disappeared from their view, stood spellbound, looking up as if they could still behold His beloved face. I have already touched upon this disposition of ardent desire, but after the address of the angels there were other affections which deeply moved their hearts.
First, they congratulated Jesus upon His entrance into glory. In proportion to the compassion with which His humiliation and bitter sufferings had inspired them, they now rejoiced; and repressing their grief at His departure, felicitated Him upon having ascended to heaven. They stood upon Mount Olivet, that spot so rich in sacred memories,–that spot where the agony of the Son of God forced blood from His pores. Their feet touched the ground once moistened by that precious blood; and with these thoughts welling up in their hearts, they might well exclaim: “According to the afflictions of my heart, consolations have rejoiced my soul.”
The disciples rejoiced with Jesus, especially at the assurance He gave them: “I go to prepare for you a lasting dwelling,” and now they perceived more clearly than ever the grand and majestic character of the happiness which had been conferred upon them, of beholding the incarnate Son of God,–that happiness after which Abraham and the prophets had so ardently longed,–yet which they were not permitted to enjoy, with the exception of Moses and Elias.
They now understood the favor which had been meted out to them, and blessed the Saviour that they had received from His lips the word of salvation; that they had walked by His side, and had had constant personal intercourse with Him. They thanked Him with the most intense fervor of heart for their call to the true faith, and for their election, according to the Saviour’s promise, to proclaim the word of life to the very extremities of the earth, and to distribute to the children of men the treasures of the Redemption, by propagating the true Church to which had been bequeathed such fruitful means of salvation.
And it was not merely sensible affections of the heart which so deeply moved them; for they, at the same time, made firm resolutions, with the assistance of divine grace, to fulfill their calling faithfully, and to obey the precept which had been given them, to await at Jerusalem, in prayer, the coming of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete. And this, my brethren, should be the disposition of our hearts upon this glorious day.
Let us exult and praise the Lord for His Majesty; for if we love Jesus more than ourselves, we should rejoice at His Ascension to such a kingdom of delight. What exultation must expand the heart of the Christian who really loves Him, as he recalls today the words of the psalm which prophetically describes the Ascension of Christ: “Be ye lifted up, O eternal gates, for the King of Glory approaches!” and behold in spirit the myriads of Angels coming from heaven to meet Him, entoning the Alleluia of victory before the Lord.
We should also imitate the Apostles and disciples in their gratitude; for if we reflect that we have been called to the true faith through no merit of our own, while the souls of millions who might have responded more fully to the grace of God, and availed themselves more frequently of the means provided by Him to help us on our heavenward way, are left in the darkness of error. What cause for thankfulness is the certainty that we are on the right path to salvation, and that if we really wish to attain it, we can do so through Jesus Christ our Lord. We should also thank God that we, as children of the true Church, may lead other souls thereto, and thus propagate His kingdom. There is no other way to heaven than that which Jesus trod, the way of struggle, labor, and toil,–of self-denial, mortification, and tears–no other way, in short, than the royal road of the holy cross.
But heaven is worth it all, and when well nigh fainting in the conflict, the Christian should think of the Saviour, Who, in His painful walk to Calvary, faltered and fell three times; and, taking courage, exclaim with St. Paul: “I can do all in Him who strengthens me.” The same Holy Ghost, promised and sent by Christ to His Apostles and disciples; He has, according to St. John, promised to us also; and He will send Him if we, by zealous and fervent prayer, prepare our hearts for His reception. The Apostles and their companions at Jerusalem did so. And after that happy event they immediately ordained deacons for the service of the Church, that they might themselves have more time for prayer and union with God.
Let us, then, beloved in Christ, imitate their example, by an increase of zeal in prayer, as we celebrate this festive day. Let us, in spirit, place ourselves in their midst, and imagine the deep emotion with which we would have fallen at the feet of Christ and embraced them, had we been witnesses of this happy meeting between Him and His holy Mother, and faithful friends. With what ardor we would have implored Him to remember us before His Father in heaven, and promised to do His holy will in all things, that we might one day follow Him to the realms of everlasting bliss.
If we possess these affections, and fulfill the resolutions arising therefrom; if we think constantly of heaven, and live only for it, then most assuredly will we courageously combat those enemies who would fain deprive us of its celestial joys; and having borne the cross on earth, we shall wear an eternal crown above. Amen! (5)
Feast of the Ascension
The sun of the fortieth day has risen in all his splendor. The earth, which shook with gladness at the Birth of our Emmanuel (Ps. xcv. xcvi. xcvii.), now thrills with a strange emotion. The divine series of the mysteries of the Man-God is about to close. Heaven has caught up the joy of earth. The Angelic Choirs are preparing to receive their promised King, and their Princes stand at the Gates, that they may open them when the signal is given of the mighty Conqueror’s approach (Ibid. xxiii. 7). The holy souls, that were liberated from Limbo on the morning of the Resurrection, are hovering round Jerusalem, waiting for the happy moment when Heaven’s gate, closed by Adam’s sin, shall be thrown open, and they shall enter in company with their Redeemer: a few hours more, and then to Heaven! Meanwhile, our Risen Jesus has to visit His Disciples and bid them farewell, for they are to be left, for some years longer, in this vale of tears.
They are in the Cenacle, impatiently awaiting His coming. Suddenly He appears in their midst. Of the Mother’s joy, who would dare to speak? As to the Disciples and the holy Women, they fall down and affectionately adore the Master, Who has come to take His leave of them. He deigns to sit down to table with them; He even condescends to eat with them, not, indeed, to give them proof of His Resurrection, for He knows that they have no further doubts of the mystery, but now that He is about to sit at the right hand of the Father, He would give them this endearing mark of familiarity. O admirable repast! in which Mary, for the last time in this world, is seated side by side with her Jesus, and in which the Church, (represented by the Disciples and the holy Women,) is honored by the visible presidency of her Head and Spouse.
What tongue could describe the respect, the recollected mien, the attention of the guests? With what love must they not have riveted their eyes on the dear Master? They long to hear him speak; his parting words will be so treasured! He does not keep them long in suspense; He speaks, but his language is not what they perhaps expected it to be, all affection. He begins by reminding them of the incredulity wherewith they heard of His Resurrection (St. Mark, xvi. 14). He is going to entrust His Apostles with the most sublime mission ever given to man; He would, therefore, prepare them for it by humbling them. A few days hence, and they are to be lights of the world; the world must believe what they preach, believe it on their word, believe it without having seen, believe what the Apostles alone have seen. It is by Faith that man approaches His God: they themselves were once without it, and Jesus would have them now express their sorrow for their former incredulity, and thus base their Apostolate on humility.
Then assuming a tone of authority, such as none but a God could take, He says to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not, shall be condemned (Ibid. xvi. 15, 16). And how shall they accomplish this mission of preaching the Gospel to the whole world? how shall they persuade men to believe their word? By Miracles. And these signs, continues Jesus, shall follow them that believe: in My name, they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover (St. Mark, svi. 17, 18). He would have Miracles to be the foundation of his Church, just as He had made them the argument of His own divine mission. The suspension of the laws of nature proves to us that it is God Who speaks; we must receive the word, and humbly believe it.
Here, then, we have men unknown to the world and devoid of every human means, and yet commissioned to conquer the earth and make it acknowledge Jesus as its King! The world ignores their very existence. Tiberius, who sits on the imperial throne, trembling at every shadow of conspiracy, little suspects that there is being prepared an expedition which is to conquer the Roman Empire. But these warriors must have their armour, and the armour must be of heaven’s own tempering. Jesus tells them that they are to receive it a few days hence. Stay, says He, in the city, till ye be endued with power from on high (St. Lluke, xxiv. 49). But what is this armour? Jesus explains it to them. He reminds them of the Father’s promise, that promise, says He, which ye have heard by my mouth: for John, indeed, baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence (Acts, i. 4, 5).
But the hour of separation is come. Jesus rises: His blessed Mother, and the hundred and twenty persons assembled there, prepare to follow Him. The Cenacle is situated on Mount Sion, which is one of the two hills within the walls of Jerusalem. The holy group traverses the city, making for the eastern Gate, which opens on the Valley of Josaphat. It is the last time that Jesus walks through the faithless City. He is invisible to the eyes of the people who denied Him, but visible to His Disciples, and goes before them, as, heretofore, the pillar of fire led on the Israelites. How beautiful and imposing a sight! Mary, the Disciples, and the holy Women, accompanying Jesus in His Heaven-ward journey, which is to lead Him to the right hand of His Eternal Father! It was commemorated in the Middle-Ages by a solemn Procession before the Mass of Ascension Day. What happy times were those, when Christians took delight in honouring every action of our Redeemer! They could not be satisfied, as we are, with a few vague notions, which can produce nothing but an equally vague devotion.
They reflected on the thoughts which Mary must have had during these last moments of her Son’s presence. They used to ask themselves, which of the two sentiments were uppermost in her maternal heart, sadness, that she was to see her Jesus no more? or joy, that He was now going to enter into the glory He so infinitely deserved? The answer was soon found: had not Jesus said to His Disciples: If ye loved me, ye would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father (St. John, xiv. 28)? Now, who loved Jesus as Mary did? The Mother’s heart, then, was full of joy at parting with Him. How was she to think of herself, when there was question of the triumph of her Son and her God? Could she that had witnessed the scene of Calvary do less than desire to see Him glorified, Whom she knew to be the Sovereign Lord of all things, Him Whom, but a short time ago, she had seen rejected by His people, blasphemed, and dying the most ignominious and cruel of deaths?
The holy group has traversed the Valley of Josaphat; it has crossed the brook Cedron, and is moving onwards to Mount Olivet. What recollections would crowd on the mind! This torrent, of which Jesus had drunk on the day of His humiliation, is now the path He takes to triumph and glory. The Royal Prophet had foretold it (Ps. cix. 7). On their left, are the Garden and Cave, where He suffered His Agony and accepted the bitter Chalice of His Passion. After having come as far as what St. Luke calls the distance of the journey allowed to the Jews on a sabbath-day (Acts, i. 12), they are close to Bethania, that favoured village, where Jesus used to accept hospitality at the hands of Lazarus and his two Sisters. This part of Mount Olivet commands a view of Jerusalem. The sight of its Temple and Palaces makes the Disciples proud of their earthly city: they have forgotten the curse uttered against her; they seem to have forgotten, too, that Jesus has just made them citizens and conquerors of the whole world. They begin to dream of the earthly grandeur of Jerusalem, and, turning to their Divine Master, they venture to ask him this question: Lord, wilt thou, at this time, restore again the kingdom to Israel (Acts, i. 6)?
Jesus answers them with a tone of severity: It is not for you to know the times or moments which the Father hath put in His own power (Ibid. 7). These words do not destroy the hope that Jerusalem is to be restored by the Christian Israel; but, as this is not to happen till the world is drawing towards its end, there is nothing that requires our Saviour’s revealing the secret. What ought to be uppermost in the mind of the Disciples, is the conversion of the pagan world, the establishing the Church. Jesus reminds them of the mission He has just given to them: Ye shall receive, says He, the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts, i. 8).
According to a tradition, which has been handed down from the earliest ages of Christianity (Constit. Apost., lib. v. cap. xix), it is mid-day, the same hour that He had been raised up, when nailed to His Cross. Giving His Blessed Mother a look of filial affection, and another of fond farewell to the rest of the group that stand around him, Jesus raises up His hands and blesses them all. Whilst thus blessing them, He is raised up from the ground whereon He stands, and ascends into heaven (St. Luke, xxiv. 51). Their eyes follow Him, until a cloud comes and receives Him out of their sight (Acts, i. 9).
Yes, Jesus is gone! The earth has lost her Emmanuel! For four thousand years had He been expected: the Patriarchs and Prophets had desired His coming with all the fervour of their souls: He came: His love made Him our captive in the chaste womb of the Virgin of Nazareth. It was there He first received our adorations. Nine months after, the Blessed Mother offered Him to our joyous love in the Stable at Bethlehem. We followed Him into Egypt; we returned with Him; we dwelt with Him at Nazareth. When He began the three years of His public Life, we kept close to His steps; We delighted in being near Him, we listened to His preaching and parables, we saw His miracles. The malice of His enemies reached its height, and the time came wherein He was to give us the last and grandest proof of the love that had brought Him from heaven, His dying for us on a Cross; we kept near Him as He died, and our souls were purified by the Blood that flowed from His Wounds. On the third day, He rose again from His Grave, and we stood by exulting in His triumph over Death, for that triumph won for us a like Resurrection. During the Forty days He has deigned to spend with us since His Resurrection, our faith has made us cling to Him: we would fain have kept Him with us forever, but the hour is come; He has left us; yes, our dearest Jesus is gone! O happy the souls that He had taken from Limbo! they have gone with Him, and, for all eternity, are to enjoy the heaven of His visible presence.
The Disciples are still steadfastly looking up towards heaven, when lo! two angels, clad in white robes, appear to them, saying: Ye men of Galilee! why stand ye looking up to heaven? This Jesus, Who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as ye have seen Him going into heaven (Acts, i. 10, 11)! He has ascended, a Saviour; He is to return, as Judge; between these two events is comprised the whole life of the Church on earth. We are therefore living under the reign of Jesus as our Saviour, for He has said: God sent not His Son into the world to Judge the world, but that the world might be Saved by Him (St. Joh, iii. 17): and to carry out this merciful design He has just been giving to His Disciples the mission to go throughout the whole world, and invite men, whilst yet there is time, to accept the mystery of Salvation.
What a task is this He imposes on the Apostles! and now that they are to begin their work, He leaves them! They return from Mount Olivet, and Jesus is not with them! And yet, they are not sad; they have Mary to console them; her unselfish generosity is their model, and well do they learn the lesson.
They love Jesus; they rejoice at the thought of His having entered into His rest. They went back into Jerusalem with great joy (St. Luke, xxiv. 52). These few simple words of the Gospel indicate the spirit of this admirable Feast of the Ascension: it is a Festival, which, notwithstanding its soft tinge of sadness, is, more than any other, expressive of joy and triumph. During its Octave, we will endeavour to describe its mystery and magnificence: we would only observe, for the present, that this Solemnity is the completion of the Mysteries of our Redemption; that it is one of those which were instituted by the Apostles (St. Augustine, EP. ad Januar); and finally, that it has impressed a character of sacredness on the Thursday of each week, the day already so highly honoured by the institution of the Eucharist.
We have alluded to the Procession, whereby our Catholic forefathers used, on this Feast, to celebrate the journey of Jesus and His Disciples to Mount Olivet. Another custom observed on the Ascension, was the solemn blessing given to bread and to the new fruits: it was commemorative of the farewell repast taken by Jesus in the Cenacle. Let us imitate the piety of the Ages of Faith, when Christians loved to honour the very least of our Saviour’s actions, and, so to speak, make them their own, by thus interweaving the minutest details of His Life into their own. What earnest reality of love and adoration was given to our Jesus in those olden times, when His being Sovereign Lord and Redeemer was the ruling principle of both individual and social life! Now-a-days, we may follow the principle, as fervently as we please, in the privacy of our own consciences, or, at most, in our own homes; but publicly, and when we are before the World, no! To say nothing of the evil results of this modern limitation of Jesus’ rights as our King, what could be more sacrilegiously unjust to Him Who deserves our whole service, everywhere and at all times? The Angels said to the Apostles: This Jesus shall come, as ye have seen Him going into heaven: happy we, if, during His absence, we shall have so unreservedly loved and served Him, as to be able to meet Him with confidence when He comes to judge us! (6, 10)
Feast of the Ascension
by Fr. Raphael Frassinetti, 1900
Gospel. Mark xvi. 14 – 20. At that time as the eleven were at the table, Jesus appeared to them, and upbraided them with their incredulity and hardness of heart: because they did not believe them who had seen Him after He was risen again. And He said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues: they shall take up serpents: and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. And the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God. But they going forth preached everywhere, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.
After Our Lord had consoled the Apostles by appearing to them at different times, and by wishing them peace, He declared at last that He was about to leave this world and ascend to heaven “to prepare a place for them.”
On this day, for the last time, He came to visit the Apostles. He promised to send them the divine Spirit, the Spirit of strength and wisdom. He said that the time had arrived for Him to go from them to remain in the enjoyment of His peace. He raised His hands, blessed them, and took leave of them all, as well as of His dear Mother. He then conducted them to the Mount of Olives. There they listened to His words, with their eyes fixed upon Him, when suddenly He was raised above them; higher and higher still He was borne, until a light cloud withdrew Him from their sight. While they were beholding Him going up to heaven, suddenly two angels stood by them, who said, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven?” This same Jesus whom you have just seen ascending into heaven will return again at the end of the world to judge mankind. He will then appear in the same form in which you have just seen Him. You ought then, my dear young friends, joyfully do all that He has commanded you before He left you, that you may be well received by Him on His return. The disciples fell to the ground and adored their Lord and Master, and then returned to Jerusalem; where they retired to a quiet place, and remained in prayer until the coming of the Holy Ghost.
My dear young people, who can imagine the great triumph with which the King of glory was received on His entrance into heaven. The whole court of heaven was there, ready to meet its Master and Creator. All came forward to make their submission to the great Conqueror of the world and the devil, who has returned in triumph. These good souls must have been in an ecstasy of joy when they saw the great Hero; they looked with wonder on those wounds, which shone like stars. As He entered heaven they joined Him singing hymns and canticles to the great glory of God; then they conducted Him to His throne in heaven, where He sits at the right hand of His Father.
Our Lord, my dear young friends, left this world and ascended into heaven, to prepare a place for us; we had lost heaven, but He regained it for us. He again opened heaven to us, that pleasant, happy place, which will be our home for all eternity. As long as we live on this earth, we shall have to suffer many evils, sickness, and, finally, death, but in heaven we shall have everything; riches, happiness, enjoyment; we shall be inebriated with torrents of delight. The angels will be our companions, the saints will be there, and Mary and Jesus, too. We shall enjoy the happiness that God gives; we shall see God’s omnipotence, with which He created heaven and earth; we shall see His wisdom and providence, by which all created things are governed; we shall see all the perfections and attributes of God clearly. We shall then see the Son of God in the Godhead, and Jesus in His divine person. We shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. We shall see God in the splendor of His glory on a throne of majesty; the centre and source of all the joy and brightness of heaven. If one little drop of that heavenly joy should fall from heaven into hell, it would sweeten the dreadful pains that are felt there.
But, my dear young friends, remember that if you wish to attain the possession of this happiness and to reign with Jesus, you must not look for your heaven here on this earth; those who enjoy this world will hardly enjoy heaven. Many wish to give full sway to their passions here, and then expect to have the reward of heaven also. But they are foolish, for if they indulge their passions here in this world, they defile their souls, and cannot enter heaven. If you want to get to heaven, keep the law of God, keep the commandments of the Church, observe the laws of the state, and you will have a right to its joys.
Not only should we observe the commandments of God, but we must also join to it the imitation of Jesus Christ if we wish to possess the place which He has prepared for us in heaven. My dear children, Jesus Christ is the model that is set before us and we must imitate Him just as the artist does who has a model before him; he marks the outlines, and then faithfully follows every lineament, every particular feature with the most scrupulous exactness. Have you so far endeavored to model your lives on that of Jesus Christ? “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ,” so that those who see you will say, “this is a faithful imitator of the divine Master.” It is easy to recognize the original and the faithful copy.
Jesus, my dear young people, is the lily of the valley, the immaculate Lamb. Here is a very important virtue. Do you possess that scrupulous purity of thought and action which renders man like the angels? Jesus was obedient, obedient even unto death. What are the inclinations which most young people follow? They are disobedient and rebellious, independent and loving liberty; they are constantly looking for pleasure, so that life loses the necessary seriousness which belongs to it. What a difference between their life and that of Christ! Your whole effort, my dear children, should be to imitate Jesus in the purity of His life, in His obedience to the divine will, and His respect for authority. Lead a mortified life, joyfully accepting all the trials you may meet with here on this earth, and then shall come true as St. Paul says, “As you are partakers of the sufferings, so shall you be also of the consolation.”
A young man once came to St. Jerome and said he desired to abandon the world, to follow Jesus and to imitate Him. He was rich. St. Jerome voluntarily accepted him among his disciples, but he took him aside and gave him a little instruction. First he said, “Son, our life is a very hard one, as you see; we have no shoes, our clothes are coarse, we have to bear the cold and the heat in our houses; to endure abuses and hard words from people and violent temptations from the devil. I know not whether you can endure all this; you seem to have been brought up tenderly and in luxury.” The young man answered, “Am I more delicate than Jesus was when He walked about without shoes, suffered hunger and thirst, cold and heat, many persecutions and at last death? He has promised to help me: had I twenty bodies I would sacrifice them all for His love.”
O, my dear young people, if you will reflect seriously but for a moment, you will see that the imitation of Jesus Christ is a necessity. “I have given you an example that as I have done to you, so you do also.” Jesus desires you all to be in paradise. Do you not wish to go there? Yes, certainly; everybody expects to go to heaven; it is the greatest insult even to intimate to your friend that there is a danger of his going to hell.
Do, then, as the Apostles did. When they saw Our Lord ascend and taken away from them their hearts followed Him because they had no interest except in the glory of Jesus and the spread of His kingdom on earth. They desired trials, torments, persecutions, even violent deaths in order to be the sooner with Christ. They disliked the world and all its vanities. Let us not put our love on the things of this earth; let us look up to heaven, where our home is. Let us suffer, let us labor hard, let us employ all our time in this life, and so deserve a heavenly reward. (7)
Image: Christi Himmelfahrt, artist: Fresken von Gebhard Fugel, 1893/1894
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff