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”) say to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven?
Then they returned to Jerusalem [“with great joy”] from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem…”
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.”
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)? 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.”
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 Jerusalem rejoicing.
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  62-64).
 Acts 1, 11.
 Lk, 24, 52.
 Ibid 1, 11-12.
 J. Ratzinger “Dogma and Preaching” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 62-65.
 Ibid 74-77.
 In 1998 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, introduced the volume: “On the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried”, published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana in the dicastery’s series “Documenti e Studi”, 17.