Throughout human history, the most common form of government has been monarchy. Monarchy offers several benefits: you can act quickly, and if you have a wise king, you can also act efficiently. Of course, the catch is that you have to have a wise king. If the king is selfish, or capricious, then you’re stuck with him. We have tried to solve this problem with other forms of government and divisions of powers, such as constitutional or parliamentary democracies, but monarchy has always been the most common form.
Two weeks ago, I was in a classroom with a group of ten year old children; we were talking about The Feast of the Ascension, which we celebrate today. One of the children raised his hand and asked, “If Jesus loves us so much, why did he leave us?” Why did he leave us? It seems to me that this is the backdrop to our understanding of The Feast of the Ascension: Jesus leaves us. We believe that He will eventually return, but for now, He is gone. Jesus’ departure is not easy for us to understand.
We can approach the mystery of the Incarnation by seeing how God so loved His people, and His creation that He himself became man. We can approach the mystery of the death of Christ, as proof of God’s love. We can begin to understand the mystery of the Resurrection, for we take it as proof that love and life have triumphed over death. But when it comes to the mystery of the Ascension, understanding can be harder to come by, “If Jesus loves us so much, why did he leave us?”
When Jesus leaves us, it seems to contradict some of of his other sayings: “I will not leave you orphans” (Jn 14:18), and “Know that I am with you always until the end of times” (Mt 28:20). When a loved one leaves us, be it because of travel or death, we find ourselves filled with sadness. To be separated from the person we love leaves us with the sentiment of emptiness, and the feeling that we have been abandoned. But in today’s Gospel, we hear that the Apostles were filled with joy when Jesus left. Now, if Jesus was really leaving them, do you think the Apostles would have been so joyous? Pope Francis says,
“The Ascension doesn’t indicate Jesus’ absence but rather it tells us that he is living among us but in a new way. He is no longer in a particular place in the world as he was before the ascension. Now he is in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each of us. In our lives, we are never alone.”
This is the reality that the mystery of the Ascension tries to teach us: We are not alone. This king can do something that no other king can do; he transcends space, and time, and remains with us through his Holy Church, the mystical body of which He is the head. Notice that he blesses his Apostles while he is ascending, a sign as though to say that he never stops blessing us; he continues to bless, and be with us always. The Second Reading says, “God gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body” (Eph 1:22-23). We are united in Christ, and in his Ascension. When we recite the Creed, and in the consecration, we remember this mystery.
After Christ’s resurrection, there was a gathering point around which Apostles would gather, a sign of unity and hope: Mary, when and where the Church was aborning; the first sparks of the Church came to life around Mary. The head of the Church is already in heaven, in that presence of Christ ascended, we are all filled with life. Let us ask Mary to invite us into the great joy of having Christ with us, this wise king who loves us with strength and with tenderness at the same time, that we may be aware of his presence in our lives, and in that of our families.
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