Thursday, June 9, 2011

It is better for us that Christ has ascended, Sermon of June 5th

The Ascension of the Lord
June 5th, 2011
Matthew 28:16-20

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

There is a great temptation to think that it would be easier to believe if only Christ would simply be present to us in the way he was present to his disciples during his earthly life. Wouldn’t it be easier if only the Lord still walked among us on this earth? After all, though we most certainly love and respect our Holy Father in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI; it probably seems like more people would convert to Catholicism if Jesus Christ himself were sitting in St. Peter’s Basilica.

All this boils down to one simple thought: It would have been better for us if only Jesus had remained with us and not ascended into heaven. This line of reasoning is a great temptation. And it is a terrible lie.

Our Savior promised us that it is better that he goes. He ascends to heaven not so much for his own sake, but for ours. His Ascension is what for the benefit of the world, for our salvation, and for the glory and exaltation of his bride, the Church. We are much better off, now that Christ has ascended. In fact, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, we have benefited from the physical and sensible separation which the Ascension has effected.
Christ has ascended into heaven and he is no longer present among us in the same manner as he was present to his apostles, that is to say he is no longer physically and visibly present among his people. Still, we know that he has ascended in order to intercede in our behalf, to pray for us and to answer our prayers. Indeed, the Lord did not abandon us when he ascended to his Father; rather, he his physical separation has brought about a greater unity through his grace working within us.

Now, to be very clear, when I say that it is better for us and for the Church that Christ has ascended into heaven; I do not mean this as a purely theoretical, spiritual, or theological claim. Certainly, it is true, on the level of doctrine, that the Church and each individual Christian has benefited from the Ascension of Christ; but I want to emphasize that, even on an historical and statistical level, we can see that it is better for us that the Lord ascended.
While it may seem to us that there would be more converts to the Faith if only Jesus had remained on earth, we must admit that this is historically not true. During his own life on earth, there were relatively few believers. Certainly, many individuals did follow Christ and many lives were changed and converted, but there was no great mass-conversion. Even the crowd which followed the Lord can scarcely be said to be true believers – one minute they will praise him, but the next they will cry out Crucify him! And we do not need to mention the fact that only a very few remained faithful to him at the Cross.

We must admit that the Church did not grow much during Christ’s life. The number of believers was very small – even the apostles were not much to speak of during this time.
However, after the Ascension, everything changed. Scarcely had our Lord ascended into heaven when, on the feast of Pentecost, the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the Gospel with boldness. In one day, 3,000 people were converted and baptized – more came to believe in that single day after the Ascension than had converted throughout Christ’s whole earthly life!
Moreover, consider how the Church spread throughout the whole world – those who had ignored Christ during his earthly life (I refer to the Greeks and the Romans, as well as many of the Jews), these are now converted by the preaching of the apostles after his Ascension.
Simply looking at the history of the Church, with a scientific perspective, we must admit that it has been better for us since Christ ascended into heaven.

And this points us to the dogmatic or theological and spiritual perspective: What is the reason behind this truth? Why is better for us that Jesus did not remain on earth, but ascended into heaven?
Christ ascends in order to teach us the importance of prayer. If he remained visibly present in our midst, we would not grow in faith as we ought; moreover, we would fail to recognize the power of prayer. Jesus ascended to take our prayers to the Father. The Lord mounts the heights of heaven, not to distance himself from us, but rather to raise us up and to give real power to our prayers. This is why Jesus told us: If you shall ask me any thing in my name, that I will do.

The Lord ascends in order to teach us that, in the final analysis, the only thing that has any real power is prayer! Think of it, he goes forth from this world and completely rejects all that the world has to offer; but, ascending into heaven, he directs our hearts and minds to what is above, to the power of prayer.
The Faith will spread and the Church will grow only through prayer – even the work of missionaries only has power because of prayer. You and I, each of us, will become saints only through prayer.
This is the lesson of the Ascension: As Christ hides himself from our worldly vision, he invites us to look upon him with the eyes of faith. And, as we grow in the interior life of prayer and contemplation, we shall find that our Savior is with us always, until the end of the age.