SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
Today is the great solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, historically celebrated on Thursday of this past week, but which may be moved at the discretion of the local bishop to the following Sunday. In the Diocese of Charlotte, the Ascension is celebrated today.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Ascension as "the entry of Jesus' humanity into divine glory in God's heavenly domain, forty days after his Resurrection." We commonly say that "Jesus rose bodily into heaven." Why is this important? Why would it be wrong to believe that Jesus rose spiritually into heaven to be with the Father, leaving his earthly body behind?
Just as the bodily Resurrection of Christ is a fundamental teaching of Christianity, so too is His bodily Ascension. This is because Jesus, while being 100% fully divine, is also 100% fully human. And to be human means to have a both a body and a soul. We have a word for what happens when the human body and soul are separated -- death. We call a body without a soul a corpse, and a soul with no body a ghost. Jesus Christ is no ghost. He conquered death on the cross, and that means rising bodily from the dead. And that also means that when Christ ascended into heaven, He took His body with Him.
Think about what this means. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Divine Logos, God Himself, has a human body. Human nature -- the same nature that you and I have -- is now integrated into the inner life of the Trinity. God loved humanity so much that He became one of us, not just for the 33 years between the Incarnation and the Passion, but for all time. Through all eternity now, God has a human face. Wow.
If that does not blow your mind, you are not paying attention.
What this means, also, of course is that when Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, He was no longer bodily present to us here on earth... well, not in the way we might ordinarily think of it. Turns out, He had a plan all along, enabling Him to fulfill His promise to be with us for all time. That plan is the Eucharist. "This is my body," Jesus tells us, holding the bread at the Last Supper, and at each and every Mass celebrated from then till today. "Do this in memory of me."
We call the Holy Eucharist "communion" because when we partake in it, we are communing with Our Lord. And we don't mean just a metaphorical communion. We are taking His body into our bodies. You cannot get any more intimate than that. And by communing with Christ, we are also in communing with all others who are in communion with Him. And so the Eucharist is an expression of our communion with the entire Church, as well.
In all options for the second reading in today's Mass, St. Paul speaks of the Church as being the "body of Christ." And so Christ continues to be bodily present to the world through His Church. You and I are a part of that body. We are the hands, the feet, the eyes, and the mouth of Christ. And just as your own hands and feet don't move about on their own, but follow direction from the head (your mind), the various members of Body of Christ (the Church) have to follow the direction of its head (Jesus).
And what directions does Christ give us? From today's Gospel account, from the very end of Mark: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature." Today's first reading is from Acts of the Apostles, and relates the same scene just before the Ascension, where Jesus tells his apostles, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
The word "apostle" means witness, and that is exactly what we are called to be, witnesses to Christ. When the world sees you, as an individual, they should be seeing Christ. When they see us, as the Church, working together, they should be seeing Christ. These are our marching orders. Let's get to it!
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723