Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ascension Sunday


I tried writing an entry this past Sunday -- the Sunday of the Lord's Ascension -- but I just felt too crummy to get any farther than looking for an appropriate icon. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Actually, the fleshing was inflamed -- for the past week I've been enduring a somewhat painful outbreak of shingles. It took me a while to connect the pain with the condition (although my wife took one look at my back and instantly arrived at correct diagnosis). So I've been lying low, taking my medication and searching for a comfortable way to sit and lie down (still searching, I'm afraid).

I'll spare you, gentle reader, from the details (way too much information). But this latest vicissitude of the flesh did prompt some reflection on the mystery of the Ascension and the flesh. While I'm probably in a minority in wishing that the Church in the western United States continued to celebrate Ascension Thursday, the Sunday celebration of this feast has a lot to recommend it as well (for one thing, greater participation at Mass than on a weekday). But it seems to me that the Ascension is oftentimes presented in a kind of functionalist way -- Jesus departs so that the Holy Spirit will come. True enough (after all, this is how Jesus speaks of his departure and of the Paraclete).

But for me, I'm drawn to ponder the mystery of how the Divine Logos, the Word of God, which descended from heaven and assumed our humanity in the person of Jesus, then ascended to heaven and inserted our frail (if glorified) flesh into the very heart of the Godhead. That the joining of the divine and the human in the person of Jesus was not a temporary expedient but the turning point in the relationship between God and men and women.

Which is why for me, the image from over the entrance of Notre Dame in Paris, of the Last Judgment, in which Christ shows us his wounded hands, feet and side, is so moving. For me it is one way of reflecting on the Ascension. Jesus inserted our humanity into the communion of love that is the Blessed Trinity, still bearing his wounds, healed but still part of who he is. Ascending to heaven, he leads the way for all of us, wounded in so many ways by our own sins or the sins of others. Saved and healed by God yet changed people because of what we have undergone. Our sufferings and injuries are not simply wiped away, rather, they are transformed by grace into a new reality that is bound up in our history and at the same time, transcends it completely.







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