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About 1,600 years ago, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) captured well the essence of the Solemnity of the Ascension by asserting: “Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven; let our hearts ascend with Him.”
Believers in the Savior especially focus this week on the Risen Christ Who is seated at the right hand of His Father, interceding for His Chaste Bride, the Church. Saint Augustine, the “Doctor of Grace,” boldly contends: “For just as He remained with us even after His ascension, so we too are already in Heaven with Him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.”
How do we remain with Christ, despite suffering in this “valley of tears?” Again, the author of the Confessions weighs in with his inimitable insight, borne of divine grace and nourished by frequent prayer, penance and study: “He is here with us by His divinity, His power and His love. We cannot be in Heaven, as He is on earth, by divinity, but in Him, we can be there by love.”
Authentic charity, which according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church “upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love” (#1827), empowers us to remain always with Jesus, the Source of charity. Although we do not see Him with physical sight as did the Twelve, we do see Him with the eyes of faith. Charity is the bond that unites us to the Redeemer.
The fact that Jesus ascended to His Father does not mean that we have been abandoned. As Saint Augustine argues: “He did not leave Heaven when He came down to us; nor did He withdraw from us when He went up again into Heaven.”
What this Bishop and Doctor of the Church writes must be repeated. We are already in Heaven and Christ is still on earth! This amazing truth is filled with vital ramifications for all Christians.
The God-Man, particularly by virtue of the Most Holy Eucharist, is now as present on earth as He ever was. Through the theological virtue of charity, He remains with His friends and reminds us that by sanctifying grace we are already at the Almighty’s heavenly throne. With all hyperbole placed aside we can lay claim now to our true home in the Kingdom of God.
The challenge for each disciple is to live with his eyes fixed both on Christ and on Heaven, realizing that one will never be complete until he enjoys everlasting life intimately with the Lord of Glory in Paradise.
As the Church commemorates the Ascension, she remembers that Jesus is with His people now on earth, while His brothers and sisters, thanks to charity, are with Him in Heaven. Saint Augustine benefited from this wisdom. His life was bettered because he recognized Christ here and knew that he himself was joined with Jesus around Heaven’s banquet table.
We are spiritually enriched when we notice the living Jesus beside us on earth and recall that we are with Him in Heaven. The mystery of Christ’s Ascension is experienced by us when we are filled with charity, the legacy which the Master has left to His children.