Yesterday, on the Solemnity of the Ascension, we celebrated Jesus’s rising into Heaven. Whenever I reflect upon this mystery, while I know it’s supposed to be an occasion of joy, it always seems to me rather bittersweet for the disciples who watched Jesus ascend. How could they possibly carry on without Him? Didn’t they feel a sense of emptiness now that He was gone?
However, Jesus assured His disciples, “It is better for you that I go” (John 16:7). While it may seem that Jesus was leaving His disciples behind, He was actually becoming closer to them, entering into their hearts in a new, radical way. Jesus never really leaves us; rather, through His Ascension, He brings us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven. It requires us to have faith in a mystery that is far beyond our earthly understanding, but it also grants us a foretaste of the heavenly glory to come.
Ascension Thursday is a reminder that, in the words of St. Therese, “the world is thy ship, not thy home.” We are all too aware in these times of all the suffering and injustice in this world, the persistent ache that undercurrents our human experience. Jesus points us toward the fulfillment of that deepest ache of our hearts, which we will find in heaven. And He promises that He will be alongside us as we journey toward our ultimate home: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
St. Rita of Cascia, whose feast is today, knew this very well. After her abusive husband was murdered by members of a feuding family, her two sons became filled with anger and desired to avenge their father’s death. Rita tried to dissuade them and prayed that God would protect their souls from committing the grave sin of murder. Her prayers were answered in a distressing way: her sons both died of dysentery shortly thereafter. While Rita grieved her beloved sons, she was also filled with gratitude and hope that God had protected their innocence and guided them toward their heavenly home. The state of their immortal souls was far more important to her than the state of their earthly bodies.
In this world, we face all kinds of obstacles, disappointments, and losses. But let us remember, as did St. Rita, that we are only in the middle of the journey. At His Ascension, Jesus gave His disciples a tangible reminder of this reality, pointing them toward their true destination. The sorrows of this world will not last forever, and our deepest longings for peace and justice will not remain unfulfilled.
1. Dosso Dossi, Ascension of Christ / PD-US
2. Nicolas Poussin, The Translation of St. Rita of Cascia / PD-US