Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord; both of today’s readings recall for us the facts of the event. Jesus was taken up into heaven, and is seated at God’s right hand. Even though we profess this mystery each week as we say the creed, we might wonder, well, why? Why did Jesus Christ have to ascend? Why didn’t He just stay here with us, hanging out and helping us? It’s a good question, and we can ask ourselves just that: why is the Ascension good for us?
As surprising as it might sound, this feast isn’t just about Jesus being lifted up; on the contrary, in the Ascension, our souls are uplifted to Him as well. In other words, this is also a celebration for us; in a sense, on the Ascension, we also ascend into heaven. Christ tells us that where our treasure is, our hearts are there too [Mt 6:21]. If we really set out hearts on Christ, if He’s our treasure, then because of the Ascension, our hearts are drawn to Him and hence drawn to heaven; we’re not just sitting around, thinking about earthly things, but rather about those of heaven. This gives us the strength and the grace to leave behind worldly concerns, or thinking too much about money, power, or things that I want to have. Saint Paul writes the Colossians and tells them, “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” If Christ were still on earth, it’d be hard for us to think of heaven all the time, but because He’s gone, and we know where He went, our thoughts turn to that place where we hope to live with Him forever. This is why His Ascension changes us.
Sometimes, though, we don’t seek heaven with all our hearts. Sometimes we’re focused on other things, like our jobs, money, or other problems we might have. Today’s feast is the perfect opportunity to consider what heaven will be like, and why we should want to go there.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains things very simply, by saying: “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they ‘see him as he is,’ face to face. . . . This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.”
Consider those words for a moment: heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings. Everything we do in this life has a purpose, an end for which we do it. Often we say we do things because we want to be happy, since that longing to be happy is part of our nature. God made us to seek happiness, since He knows that perfect, complete happiness can only be found in Him. It’s a built-in call to us, hardwired into us, to seek God. We can imagine all the things in this life that are good and make us happy. We can think of sharing a meal with our families, or enjoying a pleasant sunset with close friends, or visiting exotic places. All of that happiness, all of those good things, are like a drop of water in the ocean compared to the happiness of heaven.
This joy is even greater because it’s shared with Mary, the angels, the saints, and all the souls in heaven. A happy moment like a birthday is even more joyful when it’s shared with others, and so heaven is the happiest place of all, because of all the many souls there rejoicing in God’s goodness together.
Even all these descriptions, though, fall short. We are reminded that “this mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’”
We can catch a glimpse of this in the words of Saint Faustina, who had a vision of heaven one day. In her Diary she writes: “Today I was in heaven, in spirit, and I saw its inconceivable beauties and the happiness that awaits us after death. I saw how all creatures give ceaseless praise and glory to God. I saw how great is happiness in God, which spreads to all creatures, making them happy; and then all the glory and praise which springs from this happiness returns to its source; and they enter into the depths of God, contemplating the inner life of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom they will never comprehend or fathom. This source of happiness is unchanging in its essence, but it is always new, gushing forth happiness for all creatures. Now I understand Saint Paul, who said, ‘Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him.’”
She then writes about what God values most:
“And God has given me to understand that there is but one thing that is of infinite value in His eyes, and that is love of God; love, love and once again, love; and nothing can compare with a single act of pure love of God. Oh, with what inconceivable favors God gifts a soul that loves Him sincerely!”
This is what we need to reflect upon as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension. Have we really set our hearts on Christ and on heaven? Do we really love God with all our hearts, and seek to please and serve Him in all we do? Do we really look forward to the eternal reward of heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father?
“How great will your glory and happiness be,” says Saint Cyprian, “to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, . . . to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.”
Let us all ask, then, through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Heaven, for the grace to really love Christ, to set our hearts on Him alone, so that we might follow Him where He has gone before us, and thus enjoy the happiness of heaven with Him forever.