Jesus Ascends to Heaven, the First of Our Race ~ Card Newman

Blessed John Henry Newman meditated on the profound significance of today’s Solemnity of the Ascension into Heaven of Our Lord. He pointed out the connection between the Incarnation and Christ’s glorified humanity taken up to the right hand of the Father. It is Christ’s Triumph after the Cross.

The Ascension is “is the completion of his redemption. It was the last act, making the whole sure, for now man is actually in heaven.” As regards God’s children the result could not be any greater, leading to “great joy:” “The sinful race has now one of its own children there, its own flesh and blood, in the person of the Eternal Son. O what a wonderful marriage between heaven and earth!”

1. MY Lord, I follow Thee up to heaven; as Thou goest up, my heart and mind go with Thee. Never was triumph like this. Thou didst appear a babe in human flesh at Bethlehem. That flesh, taken from the Blessed Virgin, was not before Thou didst form it into a body; it was a new work of Thy hands. And Thy soul was new altogether, created by Thy Omnipotence, at the moment when Thou didst enter into her sacred breast. That pure soul and body, taken as a garment for Thyself, began on earth, and never had been elsewhere. This is the triumph. Earth rises to heaven. I see Thee going up. I see that Form which hung upon the Cross, those scarred hands and feet, that pierced side; they are mounting up to heaven. And the Angels are full of jubilee; the myriads of blessed spirits, which people the glorious expanse, part like the waters to let Thee pass. And the living pavement of God’s palaces is cleft in twain, and the Cherubim with flaming swords, who form the rampart of heaven {388} against fallen man, give way and open out, that Thou mayest enter, and Thy saints after Thee. O memorable day!

2. O memorable day! The Apostles feel it to be so, now that it is come, though they felt so differently before it came. When it was coming they dreaded it. They could not think but it would be a great bereavement; but now, as we read, they returned to Jerusalem “with great joy.” O what a time of triumph! They understood it now. They understood how weak it had been in them to grudge their Lord and Master, the glorious Captain of their salvation, the Champion and First fruits of the human family, this crown of His great work. It was the triumph of redeemed man. It is the completion of his redemption. It was the last act, making the whole sure, for now man is actually in heaven. He has entered into possession of his inheritance. The sinful race has now one of its own children there, its own flesh and blood, in the person of the Eternal Son. O what a wonderful marriage between heaven and earth! It began in sorrow; but now the long travail of that mysterious wedding day is over; the marriage feast is begun; marriage and birth have gone together; man is new born when Emmanuel enters heaven.

3. O Emmanuel, O God in our flesh! we too hope, by Thy grace, to follow Thee. We will cling to the skirts of Thy garments, as Thou goest up; for without Thee we cannot ascend. O Emmanuel, what a day of joy when we shall enter heaven! O inexpressible {389} ecstasy, after all trouble! There is none strong but Thou. Tenuisti manum dexteram meam: et in voluntate tua deduxisti me, et cum gloria suscepisti me. Quid enim mihi est in cœlo, et a Te quid volui super terram? Defecit caro mea et cor meum; Deus cordis mei, et pars mea Deus in æternum.—”Thou hast held me by my right hand; and by Thy will Thou hast conducted me, and with Thy glory Thou hast received me. For what have I in heaven? And besides Thee what do I desire upon earth? For Thee my flesh and my heart hath fainted away: Thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever.”

Like Newman we too hope to follow Emmanuel, “the Champion and First fruits of the human family, this crown of His great work.” And like Blessed John Henry did, years later St. Josemaría Escrivá also prayed the psalm “Tenuisti manum dexteram meam.” As God’s children we are led by Jesus to the Father, and the Risen Christ is now closer to us than ever through the Holy Spirit.