Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension 2015

Ascension: 2015

Augustine: “He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the son of Man, who is in heaven.
“These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body. No one ascended into heaven except Christ because we also are Christ; he is the Son of Man by his union with us, and we by our union with him are sons of God. So the Apostle says: Just as the human body, which has many members, is a unity, because all the different members make one body, so is it also with Christ. He too has many members, but one body.”[1]

Keep in mind: ”Heaven is a creation of theologians at the turn of the second millennium when confronted by the discrepancy between the testimony of Christ that “the time is now here; the kingdom of God has come.” It is not difficult to understand the hopes aroused by such a saying…. [2] Christian theology… confronted by this discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment, in the course of time turned the kingdom of God into a kingdom of heaven that is beyond this mortal life; the well-being of men became a salvation of souls, which again comes to pass beyond this life, after death. But… the Lord was talking not just about another life, not just about men’s souls, but was addressing the body, the whole man, in his embodied form, with his involvement in history and society; that he promised the kingdom of God to the man who lives bodily with other men in this history.”[3]
From Last Year 2014:

    From the Ascension to the Second Coming, there is a wasteland of the absence of Christ who has come 2,000 years ago, and will return at the end for the final judgment. But the intermediate stage in which we are now, the so-called state of the Spirit by Joachim of Flora, is a valley of tears where we are left to our own devices of a truncated Christianity where moral life is the zenith of our achievement, at the end of which harsh Judgment [Doomsday] will come ("Dies Irae"). This state of affairs is what Francis refers to when he speaks of Christian life today, that morality cannot substitute for sanctity. This getting out of self and going to the peripheries for the others who are always poor in love besides the necessities of life has been bypassed and obliterated. In fact, it doesn’t even surface, and the case in point is economic life. There has been no call to sanctity there. To "out" this has drawn down the ire of “conservative” Christianity on Francis. And this is the reason why he persistently asks for prayer on all sides.
                Ratzinger commented: “The term adventus, the translation of the ancient Greek parousia (the arrival of the king and his ongoing and burgeoning presence), has lost its eschatological meaning… [It is obvious that] we are dealing with… a Christianity for which grace and salvation are past, and the future holds only threat and judgment.  Isn’t this shifting of the axis the real cause of the crisis in Christianity? Hasn’t  Christianity elected to make the past its preferred moment in time and so deprived itself of the future?... I have to confess that my impression is of a sensibility welling up from the late mediaeval period by which Christendom became so attached to its past that it lost hold of both present and future. In part, it must be admitted, Gospel preaching was itself responsible for this deadly development  through  a one-sided emphasis on the threat of doomsday….
                “What can we learn from all this? In the first place, the decisive consideration is still looking to our Lord. Eschatology’s meaning and driving force depend upon the power of this waiting on Christ, not on temporal expectations of the world’s end of transformation, no matter of what kind. Furthermore, though past Christian history receives very considerable emphasis, that history is invoked in the Litany as a generator of hope, and so contains a dynamism directed to the future.”[1]
                 I break off to send out a few Christmas cards. What fits in here is the entire content of the spirit of Opus Dei which is to achieve the fullness of the baptismal vocation which is to become not only “another Christ,” but “Christ Himself.” This is the universal call to holiness as announced in Chapter V of Lumen Gentium of Vatican II. Having been made in the image and likeness of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, each human person, created and sinful, has been baptized (or destined for baptism), and therefore, chosen  and called to be another Christ and a Son/Daughter of the Father. St. Josemaria Escriva received the vocation to announce and provide the formation necessary to achieve this universal call in the founding of Opus Dei. Its ground consists precisely in becoming “Ipse Christus” as the normal and ordinary denouement of imaging The Son and Baptism into Christ. Its practical achievement is neither leaving the world (which is to be loved passionately) and taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience which are integral parts of “consecrated life,” but rather living out the hidden life of Christ in the exercise of ordinariy work and ordinary secular life. This is the true eschatology which fills the space between the Ascension to “the right hand of the Father” and theparousia of the Second Coming. The petition is Maranatha rather thanDies Irae. It is the time of hope that vibrates as a result of the exodus from the self to, as pope Francis says, living the mission to the peripheries. Amen. Maranatha: Come, Lord Jesus.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Eschatology,” CUA (1988) 10-12,
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Feast of the Ascension 2014

Mt. 28, 16-20
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…., teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.”

All that I have commanded  you:” Notice: Christ says: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. But he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn. 14, 21).

                The fact is that two angels (“two men… in white garments”[1]) say to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven?

Then they returned to Jerusalem [“with great joy”[2]] from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem…”[3]

                The question is: why with “great joy?” Ratzinger writes: “They knew that what had occurred was not a departure; if it were, they would  hardly have experience ‘great joy.’ No, in their eyes the Ascension and the Resurrection were one and the same event. This event gave them the certainty that the crucified Jesus was alive; that he had overcome death, which cuts man off from God, the Living One; and that the door to eternal life was henceforth forever open.

                “For the disciples, then, the ‘ascension’ was not what we usually misinterpret it as being: the temporary absence of Christ from the world. It meant rather his new, definitive, and irrevocable presence by participation in God’s royal power. This is why Johannine theology for practical purposes identifies the Resurrection and the return of Christ (e.g., 14, 18 ff.); with the resurrection of Jesus, by reason of which he is now with his disciples forevermore, his return has already begun.”[4]

                And therefore, the cry of the early Christians was: “Maranatha” (“Come, Lord Jesus”) and not “Dies Irae” (Woe the day that the Lord will return as Judge to this vale of tears) that began after a loss of hope in the real presence of Christ in the world – which in turn was the result of the pervasively false eschatology of Joachim of Flora that proclaimed that we are in a post-Christian time, the time of the Spirit, awaiting the Second Coming. This is given lie to by the eschatological theology of Joseph Ratzinger and the charism given to St. Josemaria Escriva on October 2, 1928.

                Ratzinger reflects on the prototype of the waning hope of Christianity in the  imprisoned John the Baptist’s sending of messengers to Christ asking the question: “Are you he who is to come or should we look for another” (Mt. 11,  3-6)?[5] And Jesus responds: “God and report to John what you have heard and seen: the blind wee, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized in me.”
And the point: “This was probably the final task set the Baptist as he lay in prison: to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God’s obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but, instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed. In point of fact, we cannot see God as we see an apple tree or a neon sign, that is, in a purely external way that requires no interior commitment. We can see him only becoming like him, by reaching the level of reality on which God exists; in other words, by being liberated from what is anti-divine: the quest for pleasure, enjoyment, possessions, gain, or, in a word, from ourselves. In the final analysis it is usually the self that stands between us and God. We can see God only if we turn around, stop looking for him as we might look for street signs and dollar bills, and begin looking away from the visible to the invisible.”

                Notice that this exegesis demands a metaphysical anthropology of the subject which is objective reality. That is, created ontologically in the image and likeness of God, we are ontologically relational subjects. That is, as the divine Persons are pure relations and not substances in themselves (or else there would be three Gods), so also the only way John could know the divine Person of Christ is to stop paying attention to himself as transfixed on the externals of the coming Messiah (the judge with the winnowing fan in his hand separating the chaff from the grain; the one casting out this adulterous generation and, if need be raising up children of Abraham from the very stones to replace the faithless Jews), and go out of himself. The person of John as turned back on himself as the great prophet was the obstacle to recognizing Christ as the divine Messiah. Therefore, he had to go through yet another conversion himself.

                So also with the invisibility of Christ at the Ascension. Christ is not to be subjected to the objectification of our epistemology of visible image and conceptual abstraction and categorization. We will be able to know Him as He is, the pure Relation to the Father and no-substance in self, only by having Him removed from our sight and demanding the interior change that must take place in us that will make us like Him. Christ has risen, and therefore, He is present in the world at this moment. But the only way to “see” Him is to become “like” Him. That is, we must go out of ourselves “to the peripheries.”

                I think it is similar to what I anticipate Francis is doing with regard to Communion for the divorced and remarried. He is not going to change doctrine. But what is going to have to change is our understanding of what matrimony is. That is, it is a way of sanctity. It is not a mere way of morality where sex becomes “legitimate.” It is precisely the message of Escriva and Gaudium et spes #48: “The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one… the existence of the sasccred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone.”

                As posted previously, in 1998, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that “the Council did not break with the traditional concept of marriage, but on the contrary developed it further. When, for example, it is continually pointed out that the Council substituted the broader and theologically more profound concept of covenant for the strictly legal concept of contract, one must not forget that within covenant, the element of contract is also contained and indeed placed within a broader perspective. The fact that marriage reaches well beyond the purely juridical realm into the depths of humanity and into the mystery of the divine, has always been indicated by the word ‘sacrament’ although often it has not been pondered with the same clarity which the Council gave to these aspects… In other words, it needs to be clarified whether every marriage between two baptized persons is ipso facto a sacramental marriage. In fact, the Code [of 1983] states that only a ‘valid’ marriage between baptized persons is at the same time a sacrament (cf. CIC can. 1055, 2). Faith belongs to the essence of the sacrament; what remains to be clarified is the juridical question of what evidence of the ‘absence of faith’ would have as a consequence that the sacrament does not come into being.”

                “During the meeting with clergy in the Diocese of Aosta, which took place 25 July 2005… I invited various Bishops’ Conferences and experts to study this problem: a sacrament celebrated without faith. Whether, in fact, a moment of invalidity could be discovered here because the Sacrament was found to be lacking a fundamental dimension, I do not dare to say. I personally thought so, but from the discussions we had I realized that it is a highly complex problem and ought to be studied further. But given these people’s painful plight, it must be studied further.”[6]

The Point:

                At the Ascension, Christ disappears, but He does not leave. He stays with us but is invisible. He is present in that each one becomes Him. And it is by becoming Him that we experience Him. We become Him and experience Him by going out of ourselves in the apostolate. His Word to us was “Going, teach all nations, baptizing them….” It was for this reason that the apostles returned from Mt. Olivet to Jerusalemrejoicing.

Ratzinger-Benedict XVI on the Ascension:

"What, then, is the meaning of Christ's 'ascension into heaven'? It expresses our belief that in Christ human nature, the humanity in which we all share, has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God. Heaven is not a place beyond the stars, but something much greater, something that requires far more audacity to assert: Heaven means that man now has a place in God.

 The basis for this assertion is the inter-penetration of humanity and divinity in the crucified and exalted man Jesus. Christ, the man who is in God and eternally one with God, is at the same time God's abiding openness to all human beings. Thus Jesus himself is what we call 'heaven;' heaven is not a place but a person, the person of him in whom God and man are forever and inseparably one. And we go to heaven and enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. In this sense, 'ascension into heaven' can be something that takes place in our everyday lives.

 "Only in the light of these various connections can we understand why Luke should tell us, at the end of his Gospel, that after the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem 'with great joy' (Lk. 24, 52). They knew that what had occurred was not a departure; if it were, they would hardly have experienced 'great joy.' No, in their eyes the Ascension and the Resurrection were one and the same event. This even gave them the certainty that the crucified Jesus was alive; that he had overcome death, which cuts man off from God, the Living One; and that he door to eternal life was henceforth forever open.

 "For the disciples, then, the 'ascension' was not what we usually misinterpret it as being: the temporary absence of Christ from the world. It meant rather his new, definitive and irrevocable presence by participation in God's royal power. This is why Johannine theology for practical purposes identifies the Resurrection and the return of Christ (e.g., 14, 18 ff.); with the resurrection of Jesus, by reason of which he is now with his disciples forevermore, his return has already begun.

 "That Luke did not have an essentially different understanding of the situation is again clear from today's reading. In it Christ rebuffs the disciples’ question about the restoration of the Kingdom and instead tells them that they will receive the Holy Spirit and be his, Jesus,' witnesses to the ends of the earth. Therefore, they are not to remain staring into the future or to wait broodingly for the time of his return. No, they are to realize that he is ceaselessly present and even that he desires to become ever more present through their activity, inasmuch as the gift of the Spirit and the commission to bear witness, preach, and be missionaries are the way in which he is now already present. The proclamation of the Good News everywhere in the world is - we may say on the basis of this passage - the way in which, during the period between the Resurrection and the second coming, the Lord gives expression to his royal rule over all the world, as he exercises his lordship in the humble form of the word.

 "Christ exercises his power through the powerlessness of the word by which he calls human beings to faith. This fact reminds us once again of the image of the cloud, in which the hiddenness and the nearness of the Lord are combined in a unique way. John the Evangelist has conveyed this fusion in an even more drastic manner by the new meaning he has poured into the Old Testament term 'raise up' or 'exalt.' This word, which had hitherto expressed only the idea of elevation to royal dignity, also refers in John to the crucifixion in which Christ is 'lifted up' from the earth. For John, then, the mystery of Good Friday, of Easter, and of Christ's Ascension form but a single mystery. The cross has a second, mysterious dimension: it is the royal throne from which Christ exercises his kingship and draws the human race to himself and into his wide-open arms (cf. Jn. 3, 14; 8, 28; 12, 32-33). Christ's royal throne is the cross; his exaltation takes the form of what seems to the outsider the extreme of disgrace and humiliation...." (J. Ratzinger "Dogma and Preaching" Franciscan Herald Press [1985] 62-64).

[1] Office of Readings of the Ascension.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means To Be a Christian,” Ignatius (1965) (2006)28.
[3] Ibid.

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