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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven
Text taken from: Jesus Christ, His Life, His Passion, His Triumph, by Father Auguste Berthe, cssr
(St. Mark 16:19-20; St. Luke 24:49-53; Acts 1)
Jesus had terminated His mission on earth. He had come down from heaven to preach the kingdom of God, redeem the fallen human race and found the new society of the children of God; and there remained for Him to transform the continuers of His work into His other self, by endowing them with the Holy Spirit who spoke and acted through Him. But, as He had several times foretold, He would send them the Holy Spirit only after His return to His Father and His glorification in heaven.
After spending a month with His Apostles in heavenly conversations, Jesus ordered them to return to Jerusalem and to wait for Him in the Supper room where He would join them. They started joyfully with the caravans that were already going to the Holy City to prepare for the feasts of Pentecost. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was with them, accompanied as usual by the holy women and a certain number of privileged disciples. Although they still feared the anger and vexations of the deicide Pharisees, they were nevertheless full of confidence, because the divine Risen One would be with them, and would know how to defend them against their foes. They imagined that He was convoking them to Jerusalem in order to make them the witnesses of a new triumph, and perhaps that He might at last restore the kingdom of Israel! Notwithstanding all the instructions of their Master on the kingdom of God, the national prejudice concerning the temporal reign of the Messiah still remained deeply rooted in their minds.
On the fortieth day after the resurrection, they were assembled in the Supper room, when Jesus appeared in the midst of them, and familiarly sat down to table with the whole gathering. As usual, He spoke of the kingdom of God, which the Apostles were to establish in the world. During the three years He had spent with them He had revealed His Gospel to them, entrusted to them His divine sacraments and designated the supreme head who was to direct them; it was now their task to preach His resurrection to all men as proof of His divinity and of the holy religion which the Father, through His Son, ordered all the inhabitants on earth to accept.
The task would be a difficult one, so much the more so as the powers of the world would not spare the disciples any more than they had spared their Master; but Jesus would never abandon His envoys. He would send them the Spirit from above, who would fill them with His light and penetrate them with His strength. Therefore He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to await there the Spirit who would clothe them with the divine armor. And then their mission would begin, the preaching of penance for the remission of sins; and they would inaugurate their ministry in Jerusalem, where they were to receive the baptism of fire.
Encouraged by these recommendations and promises, the Apostles imagined that, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the visible reign of the Messiah would begin. “Lord,” they asked, “are You now going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus did not reply to this question, leaving to the Holy Spirit the care to spiritualize those earthly souls; but He repeated to them what He had already told them about His definitive reign. “It is not for you to know the times and the moments which the Father has determined by virtue of His sovereign power.” And He added concerning their mission: “The Holy Spirit shall descend into your souls, and then you shall bear witness to Me in Jerusalem, and then in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest parts of the earth.”
The meal being over, the Lord Jesus led them out of the city in the direction of Bethany. One hundred and twenty persons accompanied the triumphant Lord. They followed the valley of Josaphat. Jesus advanced majestically among them. The Apostles and disciples, the holy women grouped around the divine Mother, joyfully followed Him, although their eyes were dim with tears at the thought that their Master was about to leave them. Jesus crossed the torrent of Cedron, into the muddy waters of which His enemies had thrown Him; then leaving on His left the Garden of Olives, the theater of His mortal agony, He ascended the Mount of Olives. Having reached its summit, He cast a last look on His earthly country, in which He had spent thirty-three years, from His birth in the stable of Bethlehem until His death on the cross on Golgotha. He had come among His own people, and they had not received Him. But the hour was at hand when mankind, vivified by His Blood, would adore Him as their Father and their God. Beyond the great sea His gaze saw into the West, where His Apostles would bring His blessed name and would hoist the cross of Calvary to the very summit of the Roman capitol. A frail bark led by Angels would bring His friends of Bethany — Lazarus raised to life, the faithful Martha and the penitent Magdalen — to those distant shores. There, millions of hearts, during ages, would beat for Him with a love surpassing all other loves. Before leaving the earth He blessed all the peoples who were to compose His kingdom.
The eyes of all gazed upon Him, contemplating His radiant face, His heavenly features, His look so full of kindness and affection wandering over all the bystanders as if to address a last farewell to each one. Then He raised His hands to give them all a final blessing, and while He blessed them prostrate at His feet, His glorified body impelled by an act of His divine power suddenly rose from the ground and majestically took its flight heavenward. Speechless through surprise and admiration, the Apostles and the disciples long followed Him with their eyes, until a cloud enveloped Him and concealed Him from their view. And as they continued to gaze on the spot where they had seen Him disappear, two Angels clothed in white appeared before them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you gazing so intently heavenward? This Jesus who has just left you to ascend to heaven, shall one day descend therefrom as you have seen Him ascending.” He came down from heaven in the form of a slave to save men; but He shall again come down, with the majesty of the King of kings, to judge them.
And Jesus continued to ascend towards the throne of His Father. He was surrounded by innumerable legions of souls, who for centuries had been detained in Limbo, awaiting the day when the New Adam would open the gate of heaven to them. At the head of those faithful of the Old Covenant were the two exiles from Eden, who had not ceased hoping for salvation through the Redeemer promised to their descendants; and the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Moses and the prophets; they were followed by the holy generations, upright in soul and confiding in their hearts in Him who was to come.
David depicted in his wonderful language the arrival of the triumphant Redeemer at the summit of the heavens. Just as two Archangels had watched at the gate of Eden to prevent our first parents from re-entering it, so also were the Angels of heaven watching at the gate of heaven to open it to the New Adam. Suddenly they heard the hymn of triumph which the army of saints accompanying Jesus were singing: “Princes, open your gates,” they said; “eternal gates, be opened, and the King of glory shall enter.
“Who is this King of glory?” asked the Angels.
“It is the Lord,” replied the saints; “it is the strong and mighty God, the God who is invincible. Be opened, eternal gates, for it is He, the God of hosts, the King of glory.”
And the gates were opened, and Jesus was surrounded by the heavenly hosts, who also hailed Him as their long awaited Chief. For in fact, it was through Christ that their adorations, their praises were to ascend to the Eternal, and become more worthy of His holy Majesty; it was through Him that the vacancies caused in their ranks by the fall of the rebellious angels, were to be filled. Jesus therefore entered heaven both as King of Angels and King of men.
David also relates how Christ, his Son according to the flesh, but His Lord by His eternal generation, was received by His heavenly Father when He presented Himself before His throne. “Jehovah said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand.’” And the Father reminded Him of His right to that honor, first, because He was His Son, equal to Himself: “I have begotten You before the dawn;” and secondly, as Son of Man, the Conqueror of the world and of hell, the King of redeemed mankind: “Sit at My right hand, and I will make Your enemies serve as Your footstool.”
By virtue of His royalty, Christ was invested with a three-fold power; first, that of establishing His reign over all nations notwithstanding the opposition of His foes: “You shall hold the scepter of power, and shall establish Your rule over Sion,” and then over all the earth: “You shall be combatted by the prince of this world and his adherents, but You shall rule as sovereign over Your enemies.”
Then, Christ was invested with the eternal High priesthood: “You are a Priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech.” The heavenly Father has rejected the sacrifices and victims of the figurative Law. There is now only one Sacrificer and one Victim pleasing to Him; the Sacrificer is the King Jesus, and the same is also the Victim. In heaven and on earth He is still the Lamb immolated for the salvation of the world, always living to offer Himself to His Father and to intercede for those whom He has redeemed.
Finally, the Father conferred on the Son the dignity of Supreme Judge. “On the day of His wrath He shall shatter kings and nations. He shall judge the nations, grind His enemies, and fill the world with ruins. He drank the water of the torrent on the day of His humiliations and sufferings; it is but just that He should raise His head and confound His foes.” Being the Son of God, He became man, He became a slave, He became like a worm of the earth trodden underfoot, and therefore “God has exalted Him and given Him a name above every other name, in order that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven, on earth and in hell.”
And it is that same Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Most High, that the Apostles are to glorify here below; it is His reign which they are to establish in the whole world. The Jews, the Romans, the apostates will wage a relentless war against them; but who shall be able to conquer them, if Jesus is with them? “They conspire,” exclaimed David, “against the Lord and against His Christ,” but God laughs them and their vain plots to scorn.
“I have given You as Your inheritance,” He says to His Son, “all the nations of the earth. I will extend Your empire to the utmost bounds of the earth; I shall crush Your enemies, as if they were only a vase of clay. Understand, kings; be instructed, nations of the earth.”
And from the Ascension until the last judgment, the history of ages shall be only the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Church, the Kingdom of Jesus, shall not cease to spread and to send the elect to heaven, while the antichrists shall go one after another to join their master in the depths of hell.