John 17: 11b-19
The Joy of Resurrection by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: "holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely. I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth."
The ascension of our Lord into heaven was a marvelous day for Christians. First of all, Christ's ascent into heaven was not just another pretty day on the calendar; it was an essential act in the saving work of Christ. Jesus had to return to the Father's side. It is His rightful place to be. In addition, it was from there that the Father and the Son would together send the Holy Spirit upon the world, the Spirit of life and truth. The descent of the Spirit at Pentecost was essential to the rebirth of humanity and mission of the Church. This mystery is a very important moment in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
Today is also a marvelous cause of hope for humanity. Jesus, fully God and fully man, left this earth, ascended into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of the Father. He paved the way for us to follow. He is the first fruits of salvation. Man has indeed been summoned to heaven, invited to share in the life and love of God. Jesus' ascension assures us that heaven is our real home. We belong with Him in his Father's house. This is a cause for profound hope. In heaven, we will know the fullness of life, the fulfillment of all our unfulfilled desires and the happiness of gazing upon the face of God for all eternity.
Jesus' return to the Father's side confirmed the Church's mission. We read in Acts that just before Jesus was lifted up He proclaimed to the apostles: "You will receive power when the Holy spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth." In Mark's Gospel, just before Jesus was taken up into heaven, our Savior said to the disciples: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." The ascension made it plain that from then on, God the Father was going to use human beings, drawn together into the Church and led by the Spirit, to continue the saving work of his Only-begotten Son. This should make us rejoice and tremble at the same time. We rejoice because as members of the Church we have been entrusted with a fabulous task, and we tremble because we have a huge responsibility.
Furthermore, the ascension is a festival of joy. Pope Benedict teaches that the joy of the ascension goes much deeper than feelings. The beauty of this mystery when comprehended by the understanding and the will causes them to rejoice. Hence, the Apostles were able to experience profound joy in their minds and hearts at the time of the ascension even though they were feeling sad at the physical loss of Christ. Pope Benedict uses the example of the joy of the martyrs, like Maximilian Kolbe who led his fellow prisoners in beautiful song as they were starving to death. The example of the martyrs proclaims that Christian joy runs deep in the soul.
Benedict XVI goes on to say: "Only when we experience something of it ourselves have we understood the feast of Christ's ascension. What has happened here is a realization in the human heart of the definitiveness of redemption so that knowledge becomes joy."
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