The Ascension of Our Lord is a feast of great hope. In fact, it is through the Ascension of Our Lord that we come to see that this world is not our true home. He goes before us to ‘prepare a place for us’ (John 14:2). We are called to raise our hearts, minds, and our gaze towards heaven, which is where our ultimate destiny lies. In the busyness of our daily lives we can easily forget to do so, but the Ascension reminds us to look up and to seek spiritual realities so that we may one day reside in communion with the Most Holy Trinity once our brief sojourn on this earth comes to an end.
The liturgical calendar leads us to enter into the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension. These mysteries point us towards our ultimate end. It is Christ who shows us the path and our destiny. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, O.C.D. states in Divine Intimacy:
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.
As members of the Mystical Body, our lives are completely dependent upon Christ and the plans He has for each one of us. He calls us to lead lives of holiness, which means to abandon ourselves totally to Him in love and trust. He tells us to remain in hope; the hope of heaven and union with Him. Christ has prepared a place for you and I. Fr. Gabriel states:
Our right to heaven has been given us, our place is ready; it is for us to live in such a way that we may occupy it some day. Meanwhile, we must actualize the beautiful prayer which the liturgy puts on our lips: “Grant, O almighty God, that we, too, may dwell in spirit in the heavenly mansions” (Collect). “Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Matthew 6:21), Jesus said one day. If Jesus is really our treasure, our heart cannot be anywhere but near Him in heaven. This is the great hope of the Christian soul, so beautifully expressed in the hymn for Vespers: “O Jesus, be the hope of our hearts, our joy in sorrow, the sweet fruit of our life.”
The celebration of the Ascension of Our Lord is a much needed reminder that we are a people of hope, especially in a world marred by sin, death, and violence. As Easter is a celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death, the Ascension leads us to pursue the joy that awaits us in heaven. It is a reminder ‘to seek that which is above’ over that which is below. We cannot enter into heaven with divided hearts. We must give our hearts completely over to Christ, so that He can be our joy.
This life is meant to be a transformation into the saint God has made each one of us to be. Conversion is a moment-by-moment process as we encounter our own weaknesses, temptations, sins, and character defects. Our Fallen nature can only be overcome through the gift of the Holy Spirit who Christ sent to Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost. God’s own life dwelling in our souls and our willingness to relinquish our will for His, is what allows this transformation to take place over time. We must be prepared for heaven because we are not ready in our Fallen state.
Christ not only prepares a place for us in heaven, He must also work within our souls to prepare us for the joy of heaven. This is why much of the path to holiness is a relinquishment of self and the goods of this world. We are meant to enjoy these goods, but we are called to be detached from them lest we take our eyes off our ultimate goal and focus solely on material realities. By the power of the Holy Spirit, our gaze can be lifted to higher realities, so that with each passing day we become more-and-more citizens of heaven rather than of this world. ‘We are in this world, but not of this world.’
This necessarily means that our hope and joy is tinged with bittersweetness. As we progress in holiness and our prayer leads us even more deeply into the heart of God, we see more clearly how much we don’t really belong here. We also see how much we fail to love God and others as we ought to. Through prayer we will come to desire greater union with God and with others. It is here that we will truly see that the treasure we seek is Christ. This is how He prepares our hearts for the joys of heaven.
In this life, these mountain top moments of clarity in prayer—during which we seem to touch the heavens—do not last. They are a part of our on-going conversion process. Instead, they are gifts that help propel us forward, but we do so with an ever increasing homesickness and a greater longing for full union with the Most Holy Trinity. Joy is always mingled with some level of sorrow in this life. We sense the longing the Apostles must have felt when Our Lord ascended into heaven, even as they left in peace and joy as they awaited the Advocate.
The Ascension reminds us that one day we will dwell in communion with the Most Holy Trinity along with the angels and saints in heaven. We will no longer dwell with Him in signs, but see Him face-to-face. Christ is working within each one of us to prepare our hearts for heaven, so that we can dwell forever in the place He has prepared for us in eternity. For now, we continue on the arduous journey in constant hope with our eyes fixed on the everlasting hills.