This Sunday we celebrate the solemnity of Our Divine Lord’s Ascension into heaven. It is the second of the glorious mysteries of the Rosary, and is indeed glorious because it fills us Christians with hope, optimism, and joy. Our Lord told his disciples shortly before that, “I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, you also may be.” We can almost envision Him in those many mansions in his Father’s kingdom, readying one of them for each of us and looking forward to the moment when, in his wisdom, he sees it’s time to bring us with him into eternal life.
But you know, even though the Ascension is a glorious mystery, I suspect that it was not altogether a joyful event for Our Lady and the apostles. Farewells are always bittersweet at best; one of our poets has said it well: “Parting is such sweet sorrow!” That sounds like an oxymoron—a contradiction in terms. What can “sweet sorrow” possibly mean? The young mother who sends her firstborn off to first grade knows what it means. The mother of the bride watching her daughter leave with her new husband for their honeymoon knows what it means. Jesus told his followers that they should rejoice because he was going to the Father and would send them the Holy Spirit. Yes, but . . .they wouldn’t be seeing Him any more. They wouldn’t have Him to lean on, to depend upon, to turn to for advice and support and counsel.
I can imagine the Lord embracing his mother one last time there on the crest of the Mount of Olives, not to see her again until her Assumption into heaven. I can imagine him going to each of the eleven apostles in turn, embracing each one and saying something of encouragement, of blessing, and of farewell as he was about to leave them to the tremendous task of beginning the Church on earth and exercising their role as its foundation stones, its first bishops—with Simon Peter as its first pope. His Sacred Heart must have gone out to them in their fear, their wondering what the future would bring, their sense of their own lack of qualification to bring the gospel to all nations, even to the ends of the earth. They seemed so weak, so human, so lacking in courage! But he would send the Spirit of God upon them in just a matter of days. And they wouldn’t be weak or lacking in courage or wisdom any more. They would be—and possess—all that was necessary for the foundation of the Church and its successful operation until the end of time. They would go back to the upper room in Jerusalem; they would gather around his mother, whose smile was so reassuring, whose confidence was so unshakeable, whose words were so dear to them. They would wait and pray for the coming of the Spirit, and then, when he had come, they would throw open the doors and begin their magnificent apostolate—the application to all mankind of the salvation which Jesus had won for all of us on the cross. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.