By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
This coming Sunday is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. We are still within the fifty days of the Easter season which will end next Sunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost. The feast of Christ’s Ascension into heaven is the culmination of His glorification at Easter. On this feast of the Ascension, an integral part of the Easter Mystery, we prepare for Pentecost, like the Apostles to whom Christ promised, at the moment before His Ascension, that they would soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
We should not think of the Ascension of Jesus as His definitive departure from His disciples or from this world. Though He will no longer be physically present, the Risen Jesus begins a new kind of presence with them and also with us. It is an invisible presence through the Holy Spirit, a presence not limited by geography or space. It is His presence in the Church and in the sacraments. He has not abandoned us. In the glory of the Father, the Risen Jesus supports, guides, and intercedes for us. From His throne of glory, Jesus sends us, His Body the Church, to evangelize the world.
Since Christ, the Head of the Church, reigns in glory at the right hand of the Father, we live in hope. Christ entered heaven as our Head. Pope Saint Leo the Great taught that at the Ascension of Jesus “the glory of the Head became the hope of the Body.” Christ’s victory is ours. In ascending to heaven, Jesus opened for us the way to our blessed homeland and has given us the greatest hope for our journey on earth.
Our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, wrote the following: “In Christ ascended into Heaven, the human being has entered into intimacy with God in a new and unheard-of way; man henceforth finds room in God forever. ‘Heaven’: this word Heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and forever, the One in whom God and man are inseparably united forever…. We draw close to Heaven, indeed, we enter Heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with him.”
On this upcoming Solemnity of the Ascension, the Church invites us to be in profound communion with Jesus. He is not distant from us. He did not ascend to some far-off galaxy or enter into outer space. He entered with His glorified body into God’s presence. Thanks to His being with the Father, He is close to each one of us forever. He is invisibly present in our life. He is always close to us, though we are free to turn away from Him.
On the feast of the Ascension, it is good to remember that Jesus takes humanity with Him into glory. We see this beautiful truth first and foremost in His Mother. Her Assumption into heaven is the first-fruits of our ascension into glory. During this month of May, we honor Mary in a special way. Many parishes and schools have May crownings, a beautiful tradition. May Mary, the Queen of Heaven, help us to share her joy that her Son has triumphed over sin and death and has been exalted at the right hand of the Father!