The meaning of the Ascension, was the central theme of Pope Francis' catechesis during the Wednesday general audience, celebrated in St Peter's Square and attended by more than 50,000 pilgrims.
“In the Creed,” noted the pontiff, “we confess our faith in Christ who 'ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father'. … What does this mean for our lives? While he 'ascends' to [Jerusalem], where his 'exodus' from this life will take place, Jesus already sees the goal, Heaven, but he knows well that the path that will take him back to the Father's glory passes through the Cross, through obedience to the divine plan of love for humanity. … We also must be clear, in our Christian lives, that entering into God's glory demands daily fidelity to his will, even when it requires sacrifice, when it sometimes requires us to change our plans.”
The Pope explained the Ascension in light of St Luke's Gospel, which gives a short version of it. “Jesus led his disciples 'as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven'. .. This is the first important point: Jesus is the only and eternal Priest who, by his passion, has traversed death and the grave and is risen and ascended into Heaven. He is with God the Father, where he always intercedes in our favour. As St. John affirms in his First Letter: He is our Advocate.”
He then added: “How wonderful it is to hear this! When someone is called in front of a judge or goes to court, the first he does is look for a lawyer to defend him. We've got one who always defends us, who defends us from the devil's snares, defends us from ourselves, from our sins! Dear brothers and sisters, we have this Advocate. Let us not be afraid to go to him and ask forgiveness, to ask for blessing, to ask for mercy. He always forgives us. He is our Advocate. He defends us always. Never forget this!”
“Jesus' Ascension into Heaven thus allows us to know this reality that is so consoling on our journey: in Christ, true God and true man, our humanity has been brought to God. He has opened the way. He is like the leader of a mountain climbing party that is roped together. He has reached the summit and pulls us to himself, leading us to God. If we entrust our lives to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain of being in safe hands.”
St. Luke mentions that the Apostles, after seeing Jesus ascend into Heaven, return to Jerusalem 'with great joy'. This seems a little strange to us,” the Pope said. “Usually, when we are separated from our family members, from our friends, definitively, and especially when caused by death, we are naturally sad because … we can no longer enjoy … their presence. Instead, the Evangelist emphasizes the Apostles' profound joy. Why? Precisely because, with the gaze of faith, they understand that, even if they gone from view, Jesus remains always with them. He does not abandon them and, in the Father's glory, He sustains them, guides them, and intercedes for them.”
The Evangelist also tells of the Ascension at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles “to underline that this event is like the link that connects and unites Jesus' earthly life to that of the Church.” He also mentions that, after a cloud takes him from sight of the Apostles, they remain looking at the sky until two men dressed in white garments invite them not to stay fixed there, looked at the sky, but “to nourish their lives and witness with the certainty that Jesus will return in the same way they saw him ascend to Heaven. It is an invitation to step forth from the contemplation of Jesus' Lordship and to receive from him the strength to carry forth and witness to the Gospel in their everyday lives: to contemplate and to act, 'ora et labora', St. Benedict teaches, are both necessary in our Christian life.”
“The Ascension,” Francis concluded, “doesn't indicate Jesus' absence, but rather it tells us that He is living among us in a new way. He is no longer in a particular place in the world as He was before the Ascension. Now He is in the Lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each of us. In our lives we are never alone: we have this Advocate who awaits us and defends us. We are never alone. The crucified and risen Lord guides us. With us there are many brothers and sisters who, in their family life and their work, in their problems and difficulties, in their joys and hopes, daily live the faith and bring, together with us, the Lordship of God's love to the world. In Jesus Christ, risen and ascended into Heaven, we have an Advocate.”
At the end of his catechesis, the Pope greeted, among others, the prelates of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and Polish pilgrims from the Shrine of St. Andrew Bobola—one of the Patron Saints of Poland, a Jesuit and martyr—in Warsaw who had come to Rome for the 75th anniversary of the saint's canonization. “He gave his life for the faith, the reconciliation of his brothers, and the unity of the Church. May his intercession before God bring the gift of unity and peace to the Church,” the Holy Father exclaimed.
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