The Ascension: Why Are You Looking Up To Heaven?

Ascension

Ascension of Jesus

Ascension of Jesus, Ascension Thursday

Fr. Daniel E. Doctor: We come to the liturgical celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven.  This is the second glorious mystery of the Holy Rosary and signifies not only Christ’s Ascension into Heaven,  but also the triumphal ascent of our Lord to the right hand of the Father.

Of course, we affirm this every Sunday, in the Nicene Creed when we say – that Jesus Christ “ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,”  just like billions of Catholics have done for some 2000 years. But just because we affirm this week after week, year after year, it still remains a mystery of faith which we find hard to understand or even to explain.

So, how are we to make sense of this core mystery of our Catholic Faith? Most especially in the early 21st century? How are we even to understand what it means to be”at the right hand of God?” These are tough questions. But most of the time we ignore these spiritual realities or we are to busy to think of them or even to rectify them with the material world we daily live in.

Even some Catholics, accept this Dogma because they are not willing to reject something simple.  Because they cannot explain it, they still tend to downplay it or ignore it, as a kind of embarrassment, in our post-modern Age as something more magical than real.

So what is so reasonable about this event? Why do we celebrate it? And what should it mean to you and me?

First of all we have to get back to our Jewish roots  in terms of how we are to understand Heaven and Earth.

Whether we realize it or not,  most of us, especially Americans, are heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. By this I mean we set up as Plato, the great Greek philosopher once taught, a sharp dichotomy between the material and the spiritual, between the realm of appearance and the realm of true reality, between subjective truth and objective reality, between this fleeting earth and the infinite heavens.  To Plato and all of the hundreds of generations of thinkers he influenced, life  here on earth is nothing but an illusion and that we have to try and escape from the prison of our bodily experiences our senses which keeps us prisoners to these illusions, trapped in our senses, never perceiving true reality – never knowing the Truth.

 

Many, many people have been influence by Plato’s philosophy in fact -everyone who thinks that spirituality is nothing more than a means to escape from this world – are Platonic in their thinking. People who think that when they die  they will be forever free of their bodies in Heaven where they will become angels  are Platonic in their thought. They are also wrong too to think that a human becomes an angel when they die,  is the same as thinking that a frog becomes a human when they die. The point here is that this kind of dualistic thinking has more to do with Platonic thought, than it has to do with the revealed truth in the Bible. When we think about anthropology and cosmology from a biblical perspective we find a unity between the spiritual and material,  that the spiritual flows into the material and the material responds and is elevated.

From a biblical perspective, Heaven or the spiritual realm is where God and Angels dwell. Earth, or the material realm, is where humanity and animals dwell. The two touched each other, they penetrated and influenced one another, and they are never separated.

This makes more sense when we think about the prayer taught to us by Christ the Our Father “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done; on earth as it is in Heaven.” You see, there is not a hint of Platonic thought here at all.  If there were, we would say, “bring me to Thy kingdom; free me from this earth and bring me to heaven.”
The “Our Father” is rooted in Jewish thought  that acknowledges the connection of the material and spiritual and that the spiritual must permeate the material and lift it up so that the two are more perfectly united. And of course this unity takes place in the Will of God and when we execute His Will here on Earth by living our Catholic Faith. But, this unity of the spiritual and material began with the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. After Jesus died, He did not come back as a pure spirit.  He rose embodied (in the flesh,)  Incarnated perfect in the Spirit. Jesus died and united Heaven and Earth through His Divine Spiritual Nature and His Human Material Nature.  What becomes the vehicle, the instrument for this unity is the very Body of Christ because Christ taught us nothing can separates us from Him.  How does this instrument of our salvation work in and through us? this is described in the Acts of the Apostle when the Lord says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

With the Spirit of Christ in the flesh of the Apostles, and in the Church – and in our flesh too – through Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination  we are empowered to bring Heaven to Earth and Earth to Heaven – because the God of Heaven and Earth is within us!  But how could any of this be called real or even possible? or even truth? When we read in scriptures on this Solemnity, “as they (the apostles) were looking on, He (Christ) was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight,” In this, we realize  that a real exchange did take place, that a little bit of Earth went into Heaven and during Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit descends, a little bit of Heaven will come down and remain on the Earth…in His mystical body in His Bride, in the Church in us!

Believing that this exchange really happened, beginning with the Ascension of the Lord, is not the belief of myth or being unreasonable.  But it is the belief  that there is a greater reality just beyond my limited perceptions. That I can come to understand, not to contradict, my conception of reality or of the material world, but to fill myself with ultimate happiness in the concept of a boundless realm of possibilities in the presence of God in and through me!  We call this Heaven. And it is Heaven that we are made for!

This wonderful exchange between God and humanity began with Christ, in His Incarnation, through His Resurrection, by His Ascension to the Father UNTIL it finds its fulfillment in you when you proclaim the Good News, when you make beautiful, sacred music and art, when you carry out the spiritual and corporal acts of mercy, when you pray, and fast, and do penance for the conversion of sinners  when you choose to fight instead of running away or remaining indifferent.

And of course when you accept the commission of the Angels to stop looking up to Heaven and get to work here on earth by bringing a little bit of Heaven -everywhere you go and to everyone you meet…

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