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  • Writer's pictureFr. Austin

Soarin'



The idea of the Ascension, for some reason, frightens me. Certainly not because I don’t love Jesus.  It’s something else – something more human.


I’m afraid of heights.


When I am high up and look down, especially from sheer and steep heights, I get light-headed and begin to tremble.  It’s one of my phobias, I suppose.  Now, people aren’t as afraid of heights as we are of falling from them. But you probably understand my fear, nevertheless. So, when I consider our Lord being “taken up to heaven,” “lifted up [and] a cloud taking Him from their sight,” all I can think of is what that view would be like and how terrified I would be if it were I soaring up there.


That is my fear speaking.


However, we are not a people of fear, are we? We have not received a Spirit of cowardice but one of courage.  We are created to climb, to rise!  When anyone is ascending a tall ladder or a tree and they express fear of the height, what is the popular wisdom that we are offered? “Don’t look down!”  When we focus our attention on what lies ahead, on what is above, then we are drawn upward, not only in body but in spirit. Our fear causes us to look down; our faith directs us up. Our faith must be bigger than our fear. The Ascension of Jesus offers us a remedy for that fear in strengthening our faith in Him and offering us a renewed hope.


St. Oscar Romero spoke about this once when preaching about the Ascension. He said,


This is the true Easter grace that we have been meditating on all during this season of Christ’s resurrection. The culmination of God’s many blessings comes now with this message of the ascension, the stupendous gift of Christ raised heavenward which reveals to us the true meaning of life and death.

 

Archbishop Romero identifies this “true meaning” as a life of “transcendence,” which he describes thus:


[Transcendence] means breaking through limitations. It means not letting ourselves be imprisoned by matter. It means reflecting on how we rise above the things that want to enchain me. Nothing can deprive us of this transcendental calling: not death, not life, not money, not power, not flattery. There is something beyond history. There is something that shifts the thresholds of matter and time. Consequently, there is something that we call transcendent, eschatological, the final goal. God does not let himself be constrained by things but rather encompasses them all. This is the goal to which the risen Christ calls us.

 

Only when our gaze is lifted up, fixed on the goal, on Jesus, on Heaven, can we obtain the true promise of our faith. Only then can we rise to the heights for which we are created. Looking back, looking downward does not lead us to new heights; it does not inspire hope. It is exactly what St. Paul means when he tells us, May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”


In other words, “Don’t look down!”


The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus are part of one in the same mystery – and it means something for us as well.  You and I are created to soar! And if we are to go soaring, we cannot be tethered to the ground, anchored by fear, doubt, and sin.  Instead, the grace of God that Jesus shares with us is a Spirit of freedom – freedom so that we can soar to new heights – heights that we never dreamed possible because of our smallness and our limitations.  In Christ, we are limitless. Now we experience the fullness of life for which we were created. Now we can soar.


If that is true, then we cannot look down; we cannot look back at what we leave behind: our failings, our brokenness, our fears. Those things are of the earth and they hold us down like sandbags in a hot air balloon.  Rather, we must cast our vision up, where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father – “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Far above our fear.


The goal of our faith is union with God.  Here on earth, we are blessed to share in communion with one another and with Christ through the Sacraments and through the Church. We are never left alone – even as Christ ascends to heaven. That faith in Jesus gives us hope, and people who have hope live differently.  They are filled with an optimism about life that allows them to look beyond setbacks, suffering, and fear.  The Ascension draws us into the mystery of God because now our humanity goes with Christ to the place that God had intended for it in the first place. We are so much more than our failures, so much more than our sins, so much more than our fears.


Therefore, let us set our gaze upward, on Jesus. Remember that you are created to soar. Don’t look down, look at Jesus!

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