Jesus is Central to the Last 10 Days of Eastertide
COMMENTARY: Venerable Tomas Morales offers three certain truths about Ascension and Pentecost.
The last 10 days of the Easter season run from Ascension Thursday until Pentecost Sunday. Many Catholics might think of the Ascension as the “end” of Jesus’ activity in the world (at least until He returns at that world’s end) and Pentecost as the Holy Spirit’s day. That’s not particularly accurate.
People like to separate things into neat, discrete categories. Because we are creatures now living in time, we also parcel things up into “before” and “after.” Again, that’s not particularly accurate when talking about the things of God, who is eternal, i.e., beyond time, and unchangeable, i.e., God does have to “start” doing A or “stop” doing B.
Venerable Tomás Morales, (1908-1994), the founder of the male and female Crusaders of Mary reminds us about certain truths about the Ascension and Pentecost. Here are three:
The Ascension is the completion of the Incarnation. St. John tells us that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (1:14). Jesus is, as the Council of Chalcedon reminds us, “true God and true man.”
Throughout the Easter season, Jesus has reminded us he is real: When the Apostles think they have seen a ghost, Jesus eats fish. In his conclusion to Jesus’ Passion, John stresses the reality of the blood and water (19:35-37) that came out of Jesus’ side: this was no illusion, no virtual event, no hologram person that died on Calvary. That person was a real man … and the true God.
Have you noticed that, in the First Eucharistic Prayer, the priest can sometimes add an additional prayer in connection with great feasts like Christmas and Easter? For the entire Octave of Easter, the priest recalls “the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh.” For the Ascension, he reminds us that “placed at the right hand of your glory our weak human nature.”
“The Ascension closes the circle of love opened in the Incarnation,” writes Father Morales. “He takes us completely into heaven.”
God came in the flesh because he loves us. Because he loves us, he came to redeem us. Great doctors of the Church debated whether the Incarnation would have happened had humans not sinned. We don’t need to go there: They did and he came out of love. And because love seeks unity, Jesus is “true God and true man.”
The French poet Charles Péguy has God the Father observing that “my Son, who loved them so … brought back to heaven a certain taste for man, a certain taste for the earth, my Son who loved them so, who loves them eternally in heaven….”
It’s just what Father Morales is getting at: The Ascension continues the work of the Incarnation to bring earth and heaven together. That work will continue until the Last Day, when Jesus comes to inaugurate a “new heaven and a new earth.” As a result of the Ascension (and the Assumption), heaven is both ethereal and earthy, with real flesh and blood there.
Perhaps our failure to believe in the Real Presence — Jesus truly here on earth — contributes to our failure to believe in a heaven where “the circle of love” includes flesh and blood?
The Ascension makes Jesus our eternal advocate. Jesus did not ascend to heaven to tell the Holy Spirit “Your turn” while he lounges around until the Last Day.
Venerable Tomas reminds us that Jesus is forever our priest, our sacrifice, and our advocate. He is the High Priest who offered himself not for himself but us in the sacrifice of Calvary. That is why the Third Preface for Easter reminds us, Jesus “is still our priest, our Advocate who always pleads our cause.” He pleads that cause now and evermore before the Father “since” the Ascension. He sits — flesh and blood — at the right hand of the Father, an eternal prayer for our salvation.
That prayer, the Jesuit priest reminds us, began at the Last Supper, when Jesus prays “I am praying not for the world, but for those You have given me” (John 17:9). Already in that prayer, Jesus announces “I am not in the world, but they are in the world and I am coming to you” (17:11). He does not ask “that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the Evil One” (17:15). By being in Jesus, now ascended, they already have one foot out of that passing world, even as they have one foot in it: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (17:16).
Péguy puts it poetically. With the Incarnate Jesus in heaven, the Father cannot see humanity without seeing it through his Beloved Son. The French poet presents it almost as a trick:
“’Our Father, who art in heaven,’ my Son taught them that prayer. Sic ergo vos orabitis, After this manner therefore pray ye. …. He knew very well what He was doing that day, my Son who loved them so. Because of that invention of my Son, thus must I eternally see them. (And judge them. How do you expect me to judge them now? After that).
Like a misbehaving little brother who hides in his big brother’s shadow, the one who stands up for the former, so Jesus is the big brother past and through whom the Father sees his adopted brothers and sisters. Woe only to the man who will not stay in his shadow.
The Spirit who comes is the spirit of Jesus. The Spirit who comes on Pentecost is the Third Person of the Trinity … and the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit who proceeds “from the Father and the Son.” So, while we focus on the Holy Spirit that day, Father Morales reminds us not to lose sight of the Christological context: The Spirit comes to finish Jesus’ work. He comes to “remind you of everything I said to you” and, in Christ’s name, to “teach you all things” (John 14:26).
But our life in Christ is not first and foremost about teaching or things but about love of the Person of Christ (which does mean keeping the Commandments — John 14:15; 1 John 2:4). The Spirit makes Jesus present (which is why we invoke him before the consecration as Mass). As Father Morales succinctly puts it: “The Spirit keeps the work of the Incarnate Christ alive.” That’s why Father Morales reminds us, the Holy Spirit “brings the whole aroma of the Incarnation under his wings. The only thing that happens is that the visible presence of Christ ascended to heaven is replaced by his inner presence.”
He does not leave us orphans (John 14:18). He is with us until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
Venerable Tomas Morales’ quotes are from his Semblanzas de Testigos de Cristo Para Los Nuevos Tiempos, (Madrid: Encuentro, 1993), Volume Six for June, translation the author’s.