The Church rejoices at Christ’s ascension into heaven with celebration of this feast, professing that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. St. John Henry Newman rightly gave importance to this solemnity of the Lord by dedicating four separate reflections to this most glorious feast day.
In the first reflection, Newman joyfully considers Jesus’ ascent:
“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!”
For the disciples, Jesus was “the glorious Captain of their salvation, the Champion and First fruits of the human family, this crown of His great work.” And the Ascension constitutes “the triumph of redeemed man … the completion of his redemption.”
In the second meditation Newman reminds us that heaven is man’s real happiness. He praises Jesus as the only True, Beautiful, and Good for which all men yearn. And implores Him to “have my reason, affections, intentions, aims, all penetrated and possessed by the love of Thee, plunged and drowned in the one Vision of Thee.” Jesus is the only Way to the Father, and He not only guides us there but gives us the strength to scale the mountain, for His rising upwards into Heaven proves that He is no longer bound by the laws of the natural world, for He is master of all.
The third meditation of St. John Henry is about Jesus as our Mediator before God. Newman begins the reflection invoking Jesus: “I ADORE Thee, O my Lord, as is most fitting, for Thou art gone to heaven to take my part there, and defend my interests. I have one to plead for me with the Lord of all. On earth we try to put ourselves under the protection of powerful men when we have any important business on hand; we know the value of their influence, and we make much of any promise they make us.” Christ, who became Man for us, is all-powerful and He lives to make intercession for us in heaven. For He, though divine, is also fully human, and knows first hand what it is to toil on earth.
Newman notes that the angels and saints also pray for us who have so many faults, weaknesses, temptations and sins. He then claims the Virgin Mary’s help on account of Christ’s words on the Cross: “If Thou hast given me Mary for my Mother, who, O my God! is Thine, cannot I now establish, as it were, a family interest in her, so that she will not cast me off at the last?” What a consolation for us on earth!
In the final reflection, Newman once again considers the role of Jesus as our Advocate in heaven. He acknowledges how many graces each person is granted in order that we might reach heaven one day; but he confesses his own selfishness which can be also our own:
“How slack am I in praying to Thee for my own needs! how little have I thought of the needs of others! How little have I brought before Thee the needs of the world—of Thy Church! How little I have asked for graces in detail! and for aid in daily wants! How little have I interceded for individuals!”
The Holy Spirit who was promised by Christ will transform and fill us with charity for others. On one occasion of this solemnity, St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: “Jesus has gone up to heaven, as we have seen. But a Christian can deal with him, in prayer and in the Eucharist, as the twelve Apostles dealt with him. The Christian can come to burn with an apostolic fervour that will lead him to serve, to redeem with Christ, to sow peace and joy wherever he goes.” This fills us with great hope.
Newman’s sorrow for past sins of selfishness is turned into this hope at the thought of the prayer of Our Immaculate Mother and the saints, and into a desire to strive to live as God’s children here on earth. “There is no meriting in Purgatory.”
St. John Henry concludes with a prayer to Jesus that we can make our own as we celebrate this joyous feast:
“Thou art my Advocate at the Throne of the Highest. As the dial speaks of the sun, so will I be ruled by Thee above, if Thou wilt take me and rule me. Be it so, my Lord Jesus. I give myself wholly to Thee.”
And we, as did the men of Galilee, will imagine our Lord’s ascension and marvel, for Our Lord promised, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (St. John 16:33)