Brookline Carmel Bulletin
May 14, 1961
Scripture scholars have a disconcerting way (God bless them) of jolting us out of our rut of self-assurance concerning our grasp of salvation-history. For example, some of them are now telling us that Jesus ascended into Heaven on the day of His resurrection, and that on the same evening He also sent the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles. In other words, although Jesus appeared on and off to his disciples for forty days after rising from the dead, when He wasn’t with them He was in Heaven sitting at the right hand of His Father in glory. Similarly, He sent the Holy Ghost upon them at least once before Pentecost, when, on the evening of Easter-day, He breathed upon them and gave them the power to forgive sins. Pentecost, then, was simply a very special sending for a very special purpose.
When we get over our surprise, we go on to learn that the Ascension that we celebrate commemorates the final return of Jesus to the Father following His final appearance and exhortation. The object of the Feast is not an historical fact in its historical setting, but in its doctrinal setting. We are forced, thus, to consider more closely the theological implications of the Ascension, which form, after all, the essential element anyway.
Perhaps if the Scripture scholars did not disturb our smugness, we would continue to wonder what the Resurrection and Ascension really contribute to our Redemption. Haven’t we always believed that by His redemptive death Jesus reconciled us with the Father, opened the gates of Heaven, and released the floods of divine grace from His Heart opened on the cross? Was not all His meriting done on Calvary? What then, was His resurrection if not a prognostic, that is, a mere sample of the life after death that awaits us if we die with Him to sin and evil? What was the Ascension and Glorification of Jesus if not a mere personal reward for His heroism? How do the Resurrection and the Ascension qualify as meritorious deeds? How then can they be essential features of the Mystery of the Redemption?
What we are supposed to see in the Feast of the Ascension, then, is not simply the journey of Jesus into the heavenly spheres, a local motion. We are to see in it a change of status, a movement from a state of lesser to greater perfection, actually, to greatest perfection, a fulfillment. Students of the Holy Writ consider the Mystery of the Incarnation to have been fully realized with the glorification of Jesus at the right hand of His Father. Since the earthly life of Jesus was an imperfect life, i.e., subject to pain and death as is our own, the union of the Second Divine Person with an imperfect humanity was an ‘imperfect’ Incarnation. It would be perfect when the Word would be hypostatically united to His humanity in its ultimate perfection, consisting of the union of His (always) thoroughly ‘divinized’ soul with His then glorified and spiritualized body. Therefore, when the Scriptures speak of a cloud having taken Jesus from the view of the Apostles, that cloud was not an ordinary ‘meteorological’ cloud, but the cloud that represented and concealed the presence and the glory of God: the same cloud that appeared on Mount Sinai, that resided over the Ark of the Covenant, that overshadowed Jesus at His Baptism and again on Tabor. The God-Man’s being taken up into that cloud meant His entrance into the secret, intimate presence of the Divine Nature. Thus, Jesus could look upon His Resurrection and Ascension as progressive stages in fulfillment of His vocation. With the Ascension He would have realized perfectly the plan of God for Him, i.e., He would have realized all His potential. He was able, then, to desire ardently the beatitude that followed from a sense of fulfillment. It was for this reason that He could tell His Apostles that if they loved Him, they would be glad of His return to His Father. When we love someone, we want him to be as happy as he can be; so we want to see him achieve all the perfection of which he is capable.
The Scriptures suggest, also, that Jesus had to go to Heaven to exercise His Priesthood: “Now the main point in what we are saying is this: We have such a High Priest who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the Holies and of the true tabernacle which the Lord has erected and not man.” (Heb. 8: 1,1), and, “But when Christ appeared as High Priest of the good things to come, he entered once for all through the greater and more perfect tabernacle…, nor again by virtue of the blood of goats and calves, but by virtue of his own blood into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9: 11, 12)
The Ascension, therefore, was essential to Salvation-History. It brought to a perfect end the Mystery of the Incarnation. It was then, when the perfectly Incarnate Word, the glorified Jesus, began to exercise His Priesthood in the Heavenly Holies, at the right hand of His Father, that the Mystery of the Redemption was brought to its perfect end, too.
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