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I’ve been editing a page on the Parish Website that has the seasonal
readings from the Divine Office.
Since Ascension Thursday is celebrated with an Octave, there are an abundant
number of readings dealing with the Ascension. We are fortunate to have the
writings of two great Popes—Leo and Gregory the Great. Both of these men
wrote not only with papal authority, but with flawless logic as well.
Pope Saint Leo the Great tells us:
God was pleased to ordain, by His Most Sacred Will, and in His
Providence for our instruction and the profit of our souls, a season
of forty days—which season, dearly beloved brethren, ends on this
day. During that season the bodily Presence of the Lord still
lingered on earth, that the reality of the fact of His having risen
again from the dead might be armed with all needed proof.
And, in all truth, it was a great and unspeakable cause for joy to
see the Manhood, in the presence of that the multitude of believers,
exalted above all creatures even heavenly, rising above the ranks of
the angelic armies and speeding Its glorious way where the most
noble of the Archangels lie far behind, to rest no lower than that
place where high above all principality and power, It took Its seat
at the right hand of the Eternal Father, Sharer of His throne, and
Partaker of His glory, and still of the very man's nature which the
Son hath taken upon Himself.
Through the unspeakable goodness of Christ we have gained more than
ever we lost by the envy of the devil. We, whom our venomous enemy
thrust from our first happy home, we, being made of one body with
the Son of God, have by Him been given a place at the right hand of
The forty day period and subsequent
Ascension seem to be our Lord’s effort to demonstrate to mankind that He had
truly risen from the dead in both His sacred humanity and in His divinity.
He was, of course, true God—but also true Man. He allowed Himself to be
touched and probed, he cooked dinner, and He ate with His Apostles—He was no
ghost, nor figment of the imagination.
The importance of all of this is that we have been assured of the
possibility of both the resurrection of our own bodies, and the possibility
of our resurrected bodies one day standing forever before the throne of God,
the Creator of the Universe.
And Pope Saint Gregory the Great:
For my part, I put my trust in Thomas, who doubted long, much more
than in Mary Magdalene, who believed at once. Through his doubting,
he came actually to handle the holes of the Wounds, and thereby
closed up any wound of doubt in our hearts.
After "eating together with them He was taken up." He ate and
ascended: that the fact of His eating might show the reality of the
Body in Which He went up. But Mark tells us that before the Lord
ascended into heaven, "He upbraided His disciples; with their
unbelief and hardness of heart." From this I know not why we should
gather, but that the Lord then upbraided His disciples, for whom He
was about to be parted in the body, to the end that the words which
He spoke unto them as He left them might be the deeper imprinted on
A Catholic lady recently asked me
why Jesus did not allow the whole world to witness His ascension, instead
limiting the witnesses to the few who had been eating with Him in the Upper
Room—the Apostles, the Blessed Virgin and a few other women who had
ministered to Jesus during His lifetime.
Wouldn’t being an observer of the Ascension make believers of all who
Making the whole world see the event
seems like a tremendous feat! But since God can do anything, that couldn’t
be the reason. I think the reason is that Jesus knew that there would be
many who would still not believe. During His public life Jesus worked many
miracles, which were seen by multitudes of people. Yet, many went away
unbelieving—and some of them even labored to have Him put to death on the
Cross. Many people saw Jesus after His Resurrection, yet not all believed.
Saint Paul refers to five hundred people in addition to the Apostles.
Think of the guilt involved in
witnessing His miracles and yet demanding His death. Think of the guilt
involved in witnessing His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven and
remaining an unbeliever. Actual witnesses would be far more guilty than
those who learned only second hand.
Pope Gregory gives us a clue about
the nature of belief and the reward of faith. He observes that Saint Thomas
the Apostle gives us more firm ground on which to believe in the
Resurrection than does Mary Magdalene—Thomas demanded to see and probe the
wounds of the Crucifixion. But listen to our Lord’s words to Thomas:
Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are
they that have not seen, and have [yet] believed.
We were not witnesses to any of
this—we who were born two thousand years later! But we have the testimony
of witnesses who proved their reliability by shedding their blood for the
Truth of Christ—In human terms: people who had nothing to gain and a great
deal to lose.
So, our Lord is addressing us, as He
addressed Saint Thomas: “blessed are we that have not
seen, and have [yet] believed.