God mounts His throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord. Psalm 47:5
Today we celebrate a glorious day, the culmination of everything tied to Christ’s mission on earth and the event that will set the stage for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Catholic Church at Pentecost. God has ascended His throne with great majesty and will continue to aide us by interceding for us to God the Father and sending His Spirit to guide us. We know that Jesus ascended to do these things and prepare a place for us through His intercession, as well as take His rightful place in heaven where He had belonged all along. But there is another reason that He had to ascend: to make us grow.
Have you ever had someone in your life who you feel made you a better person, like a mentor or really close friend? If this person was primarily a mentor, say in your field of study or workplace, do you remember the day that you had to “leave the nest” and go off on your own? You could still talk to them and ask for advice occasionally, but you weren’t shadowing them anymore and they weren’t always by your side coaching you and talking you through things. I’m sure that at times you wished they were still helping you, but looking back, would that have been the best thing for you in terms of growth and development in your field? This is exactly why Jesus Christ had to leave us before He and the Father sent the Spirit to us. Yes, it would have been nice to always have Him with us to lead us and physically be there to talk us through the dilemmas that our changing world bring. But we would always be looking to Him to get us out of jams instead of actually learning His teachings and learning to apply them in our lives and situations in order to grow in our faith and spiritual lives. In fact, there would be no need to do this because God Himself would always be there physically. But God wanted us to grow and actually be closer to Him in our lives, so His Son ascended so that we would strive for this.
But, of course, He did not wish for us to be entirely alone. Just as one always has the values and teachings of mentors to help them along and to apply to situations that they encounter, God sent us His Spirit to remind us of His teachings and show us how to apply them in our lives, as well as endow us with His seven gifts to give us the strength to apply them. He gives us the tools to succeed, just as our mentors do, but He is not there physically because we are meant to grow and develop in our faith, using the tools that He gave us to do so.
This brings us to another reason for the Ascension: longing. As I said earlier, Jesus ascended to take His rightful place in heaven. Well, it’s meant to be our rightful place too! And if Jesus had remained on earth, we would not long for it because heaven would already be on earth with us in His Person. But this life is not meant to be heaven for us and so we need to long for and look toward the place that is, namely, the place to where Christ and so many others have gone before us.
Leaving the nest can be scary. You could also use graduating and going into the real world as an analogy here. But God always intended for us to grow and not cling to the physical presence of Christ, as Christ Himself told Mary Magdalene (John 20:17). But Christ coming to earth and giving us His teachings was meant to fully equip us to succeed in growing in our own spiritual lives, as well as spreading the truth of His Gospel to others. As St. Augustine says, “Let us ascend in spirit with Christ, that when His day comes, we may follow with our body…” He goes on to say, however, that vices do not ascend with Christ and so cannot ascend with us either. We must use His teachings and the help of His Spirit to grow and change while on earth.
We have graduated; now… what are we going to do with what we’ve learned?
Edit: We do have Jesus physically present with us in the Eucharist. Throughout this post, I was referring to His undisguised physical Presence, as He was before the Ascension.