It is during these dark days of uncertainty that we must raise our eyes to heaven. It is through Christ’s Ascension and return to the Father that we learn to follow Christ to our ultimate end. He shows us that our true home is not to be found in this world. We are made for eternal life. It is this message of hope that we must cling to and boldly proclaim as we continue through this pandemic and the separation from the Sacraments that continues in so many dioceses around the world.
In the days and weeks following His Resurrection, Christ sought to prepare the Apostles for His return to the Father, but they could not bear the news. They were filled with grief, so Christ gently, over time, revealed His plan to them that would result in the coming of the Holy Spirit, Who is our Advocate and Comforter. Nevertheless, His return to the Father was necessary because we are called to follow Him wherever He goes.
Through the Ascension, Christ completes His earthly pilgrimage and leads us to our ultimate home and union with Him. We cannot attain eternal life fully until He ascends back to the Father. The Ascension raises our eyes towards heaven.
The Ascension is, then, a feast of hope, a sweet foretaste of heaven. By going before us, Jesus our Head has given us the right to follow Him there some day, and we can even say with St. Leo, “In the person of Christ, we have penetrated the heights of heaven.” As in Christ Crucified we die to sin, as in the risen Christ we rise to the life of grace, so too, we are raised up to heaven in the Ascension of Christ. This vital participation in Christ’s mysteries is the essential consequence of our incorporation in Him. He is our Head; we, as His members, are totally dependent upon Him and intimately bound to His destiny.— Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, Divine Intimacy, #179.
Through baptism we have been incorporated into the life of Christ, which means we live in the hope of our own resurrection and sharing in His glory. We too will follow Him to the Father at the end of our earthly lives. The Ascension is the event that most clearly reflects our hope in eternal life.
The supernatural virtue of hope is a gift from the Holy Spirit that helps us to open ourselves more fully to God’s plan for our lives. The hope we experience in this life is a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of our ultimate joy, which is dwelling in communion with the Most Holy Trinity and the angels and saints for all of eternity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1817).
As a people who hope in Christ, we are meant to live differently from those who do not yet know Christ. Our response to suffering and affliction, even on a global scale such as during this pandemic, should be one of constant hope and trust in Christ. We have been given supernatural vision whereby we understand that no matter what befalls us in this life, all will be made new at the end of time and we will dwell in eternal happiness with Christ should we persevere on the path to holiness.
We must avoid temptations to fear, panic, and despair. Christ is with us and He is leading us towards eternal life. He has shown us the way through His Ascension. This promise, which is the source of our hope, means that we should be a reflection of light and strength for the world. We must seek to trust in Christ even to the point of overcoming fear of bodily death and constantly seeking the goods of heaven. St. Paul calls us to this hope in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI expounds upon in his encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi.
…he says to the Thessalonians: you must not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Th 4:13). Here too we see a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.Spe Salvi 2
We are able to live in peace and hope in the present pandemic because we know this virus will not have the last say. Even if death comes for us, we rest in the hope of finally attaining eternal life, which is the very meaning of our lives.
As Christians, we understand that we will not be spared from suffering in this life. We know that it is a guarantee, since we are called to be crucified with Christ. We know, however, that death has been conquered through Christ’s Resurrection and the path to eternal life opened up to us through the Ascension. As Benedict XVI says a few sentences later: “The dark door of time, for the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.” We have been given new life in Christ and that is the ultimate source of our hope in all of the storms that rage around us.
We should hope for good things in this life, but our hope cannot be dependent upon the good or bad things that happen in this life. We pray for the end of the pandemic, jobs for the unemployed, food for the starving, and healing for the sick—but we always do so understanding that everything is ultimately up to God. We know that even the greatest of agonies will be redeemed in the end.
It is this supernatural vision that gives us the strength we need to trust at the foot of any cross we face in this life, knowing greater good will come out of it as a part of God’s plan for our salvation.
Let us follow Christ on our pilgrim way to our ultimate home, even as we carry this heavy cross, and any future crosses placed upon our shoulders. Despite all of the hardships, trials, afflictions, and disappointments, we know that our hope is not to be ultimately found in this world.
We must raise our eyes towards heaven and keep our gaze fixed on Christ, who has ascended to the Father, to prepare a place for each one of us.