What is the Ascension? Is it a movement to that infinity that we call “the cosmos”, Paradise? That is not too important. The important thing is that it is to the heart of the Trinity. The Ascension is an arising, a moving upward—beautiful, joyful. Behind it is the Spirit, the Spirit which we receive in Confirmation. He shows us how to live in order to ascend with Christ, providing we open our hearts again and again to his influence.
In the second reading for this feast, St. Paul says, “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed to bring you to full knowledge of him.” (Eph. 1:17-18) “The full knowledge of him”—now Christ has power over everything, for that is what his Ascension means. He is king, he is glorified, he is at the right hand of the Father. And as the song says, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”
That is exactly what is happening: all of us are in there in the hand of Jesus Christ. We come to the essence: the Father loved us so much that he sent his Son, Christ God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who becomes man for love of us. This love cascades constantly over all of us since we were created, like a million Niagaras. Picture that immense Niagara falling over us, with all the graces and the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then realize that this love is in a hand, where the world, the cosmos, rests—a hand pierced with a nail. Who can be afraid of God when he knows that he is held in the hand of Jesus Christ, in the hand of mercy? I am in the pierced hand of the Lord!
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Season of Mercy
Reflection – And so we come to the feast of the Ascension, beginning tonight with First Vespers. I think this feast, and this aspect of the mystery of Christ, is among the least understood generally. In part this is because of our modern scientifically informed cosmology: Christ ascends into heaven; the space shuttle ascends into orbit. Simple locomotion upwards off the face of the earth does not connote to us anything of spiritual significance.
In the ancient world which had a radically different understanding of the heavenly realm as opposed to the earthly realm, the meaning of Christ’s ascension was clear and obvious, and that meaning is exactly what Catherine communicates very beautifully and simply in this passage.
Christ returned to the Father. The man Jesus, who of course is the Divine Son, eternally begotten of the Father and never separated from Him for one moment of his Incarnate life, now goes into the heart of the Trinity. The Eternal Logos of God carries his human body, soul, nature, into the very heart of God.
An ancient person understanding the whole business of earth and heaven, ascent and descent according to the cosmology of the day, would have gotten the symbolism immediately and obviously.
For us in the rocket age, we have to translate. But it all means that this man Jesus, pierced hand and
wounded side and all, is the road to the Father, which means the road home. It is this whole business of the prodigal son and the great journey of humanity to its true home.
The ascension shows us that the way home, the road from the pig sty and the misery of our current condition to a life of joy and bliss forever, is the way of Christ. The following of Christ, the life of discipleship and communion laid out for us in the Gospels and in our Sacred Tradition.
In other words, it is all an intensely personal matter of love and communion, not simply some mechanical question of locomotion and transfer of a body from one place to another. Where is the ascended body of Jesus? I haven’t a clue, nor does anyone else, nor does it matter in the slightest. The Lord Jesus is with His Father, and our path to the Father is the path of following the Lamb wherever he leads us. The Ascension is truly the feast of the way home, the ‘map’ given us so we know where we are and where we are going.