Chapter Talk – Ascension – May 24, 2020 – cycle-A
The solemnity of the Ascension: now there is no more separation between heaven and earth, they are one…now there is no separation between our earthly lives and the heavenly life….all creation and humanity are now contained within the total mystery of God. The sending of the Spirit, of Christ’s Spirit will confirm this profound unity and will be our link to this profound communion and unity of God’s life. In Pope Francis’ words: “Jesus declares that there is a power ‘in heaven and on earth’. It is, first and foremost, the power to connect heaven and earth. Today we celebrate this mystery because when Jesus ascended to the Father, our human flesh crossed the threshold of heaven: our humanity is there, in God, forever. Therein lies our trust, because God will never distance himself from mankind” (Homily, May 27, 2017).
Through the One who has descended and today ascended the completion of his mission has happened. And this mission is to continue through the Church, that is through each one of us, the whole people of God. In Matthew’s gospel before Jesus’ Ascension he missions the first disciples and through them to us with these words: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20). As God never distanced himself from Jesus, now as we continue to live the gospel way, the same holds for us: God will never distance himself from us.
I like to place what I just said as a backdrop to what follows. I like to make a switch and turn to St. Bernard. According to Fr. Jean Leclercq, the Ascension was one of the mysteries that St. Bernard preached on most often (Cistercian Studies Quarterly, vol. XXV, 1990, p.11). His devotion to this solemnity even prompted him to institute a procession for this celebration. Leclercq writes that for St. Bernard, “the Ascension was the accomplishment of the mystery of love by which the Incarnate Word, until then hidden in the lowliness of the flesh, and finally ascended to the glory of the Father, could send to humans the Spirit which would unite them to God in love” (p.11). The ‘mystery of love’ revealed in the Incarnate Word is what expands reality and opens the way to the Ascension.
In one of Bernard’s short sermons for the Ascension, he is already intimating Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit, “the promised consolation” (p.7). Bernard comments then on those left behind, the committed flock, who he describes as “destitute of the solace of the Shepherd, and yet not doubting in the least that he was caring for them…” (p.7). What was the interior demeanor of those early disciples? Bernard says that “the divine ear” heard “the preparation of their heart…those who were at the same time great-souled, patient-souled and one-souled. For most certainly these witness to their faith, hope and charity” (p.7-8). Great-souled, patient-souled and one-souled’: Bernard further says: “It is indeed clear that hope produces longanimity, and charity produces unanimity. But does faith bring about magnanimity? Yes, and it alone does” (p.8). Let me repeat this wonderful depiction of preparation in that in-between time of the Ascension and Pentecost. ‘Longanimity’ is what hope brings and makes the soul ‘patient’. Unanimity is one-souled and it comes from charity, forming a community of one heart and one mind. Finally, ‘magnanimity’ which is ‘great-souled’ is the fruit of faith. Do we not know that our faith is faltering when we are not magnanimous in heart towards one another?
Here we have on this feast of the Ascension Bernard’s “triple preparation” for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Not only this but it seems to me that faith, hope and charity are the triple virtues that we need to cultivate, for these three virtues keep our souls connected to the One who has ascended, who has brought heaven to earth and earth to heaven, who is with us now as we strive to ‘walk as he walked’. With Jesus’ Ascension our humanity crossed the threshold of ‘heaven’…we have a place in the Godhead. Magnanimity (faith), longanimity (hope), and unanimity (charity) are what keep us rooted in Christ and in living the gospel way.