Written by Dennis Carr
<!–4/5/11, Catholic Issues–>“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (Luke 24:50—53).
The story of Jesus’ Ascension is one that captivates our attention and wonder, and even more so, offers hope to His followers. This event is chronicled in the Gospels of Mark and Luke as well as the Acts of the Apostles. Catholic Encyclopedia defines the Ascension, “The elevation of Christ into heaven by His own power in presence of His disciples the fortieth day after His Resurrection.” Not only is it celebrated the fortieth day after Easter, but also it always falls on a Thursday.
Regarding the Feast of the Ascension, Catholic Encyclopedia stresses its prominence in the liturgical calendar, “It is one of the Ecumenical feasts ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter and of Pentecost among the most solemn in the calendar, has a vigil and, since the fifteenth century, an octave which is set apart for a novena of preparation for Pentecost, in accordance with the directions of Leo XIII.”
Mount Olivet is traditionally regarded as the site of the Ascension, “since after the Ascension the disciples are described as returning to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, within a Sabbath day’s journey.”
Saint Helena constructed the first memorial there, which was tragically destroyed by the Persians in 614, and rebuilt only to be decimated again, but by Muslims. The only surviving vestige is an octagonal edifice enclosing the stone purportedly imprinted by Jesus’ feet.
The Ascension is integrally related to Jesus’ Resurrection.
Both offer Catholics a chance to practice the theological virtue of hope.
They also comprise the first two Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.
Even more so, the Ascension and Resurrection are connected with the Passion of Jesus and Good Friday. Our lives are inevitably also going to be tested with trials and suffering.
However, we are consoled by trusting in Jesus and hoping that, if we faithfully follow Him, we too shall be resurrected and united with Him one day.
In the Nicene Creed that Catholics profess at the celebration of every Mass, the community voices its collective hope, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
Catholics don’t believe in the Resurrection and the Ascension as some sort of delusion.
Rather, BC philosophy professor Peter Kreeft notes, “The Christian believes in life after death not because of an argument, first of all, but because of a witness.”
He continued, “The Church is that witness; ‘apostolic succession’ means first of all the chain of witnesses beginning with eyewitnesses.”
Kreeft provided the Christian response to skeptics of the Resurrection and Ascension.
The skeptic says, “‘What do you know for sure about life after death anyway? Have you ever been there? Have you come back to tell us?’”
The Christian replies, “‘No, but I have a very good Friend who has. I believe Him, and I follow Him not only through life but also through death. Come along…’”