The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven is the completion of the Paschal Mystery. He shows us that where he has gone, we hope to follow.
His physical presence in eternity shows us that the new heavens and the new earth will be a physical reality where “he will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness” (Revelation 21: 4).
For the past seven weeks we have been celebrating the most joyous season of the Catholic liturgical year. The Easter season has filled us with immense joy and profound hope. The Lord has truly risen.
Today, we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven. The risen and glorified Jesus physically returns to the Father. We await with joyful expectation his return in glory. Where he has gone, we hope to follow. This is our ultimate goal: get to heaven.
What is heaven? Heaven has been defined for us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church with these words: “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they see him as he is, face to face. This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called heaven. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1023 – 1024).
In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of this mystery through images. He calls it the kingdom, a place of life, light and peace. He refers to it as a wedding feast, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem and paradise.
Saint Paul tells us that “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2: 9). And Saint John tells us that in heaven “we shall see him as he really is” (1 John 3: 2).
Saint Paul’s awe is echoed in the words of a child taking an evening walk with her father. Wonderingly, she looked up at the stars and exclaimed: “Oh, Daddy, if the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what must the right side be!”
Life confined to the boundaries of time and space without the promise of eternal life would be cruel and unbearable to live. Without the certainty of an eternal paradise, the trials and tribulations of this present life would have no meaning and purpose.
The judgments of time will be corrected by the judgments of eternity. The injustices of this world will be replaced by the justice of the world to come. The tears shed now, will be replaced by the joy lived forever in eternal life.
The martyrs throughout the history of the Catholic Church were able to sustain unbearable trials precisely because they were certain of a place called heaven. They were able to persevere and resist sin because their love for the next life was greater than their love for this present life.
There is a heaven and we need to get there. There is a hell, and we need to do everything that we can to avoid the possibility of losing our immortal soul.
Our number one priority is to get to heaven.
There is another dimension to this feast day that we need to consider. The Second Vatican Council, in one of the most important documents of the sixteen conciliar documents, teaches us that although our goal is to reach eternal life, this does not excuse us from our earthly obligations.
“Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gains the whole world and lose himself, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age” (Gaudium et spes, The Church in the Modern Word, I, III, 39).
We cultivate this earth by being passionate and responsible stewards of our time, talent and treasure. As creatures of God, everything that we have is a gift from God.
Discipleship and stewardship are one and the same reality. We are called to give of ourselves and what we have been given.
Stewardship must be seen as the way we live out our vocation as a Christian people.
When we understand that everything that we have is a gift from God, we will journey through life totally detached from everything, but at the same time, never aloof from the needs of others.
It is our task to make this world a better place for all.
Yes, it is true that the Solemnity of the Ascension does direct our gaze toward eternal life. However, our struggle to attain eternal life must never serve as an escape from our duties here on earth.