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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Where is Heaven?

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Reflection on Acts of the Apostles 1:6-11

By: Larry T. Smith

In most dioceses in the United States, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is observed this Sunday. The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles:

The Ascension of Jesus. 
6  When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7  He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.

The entire Ascension event is summarized in verse 9: “When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” Then comes the promise of verse 11: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” So, Jesus ascended into heaven on a cloud, and someday he will return to us on a cloud. Is that the sum of our Catholic belief concerning the Ascension expressed in a nutshell? Or is there more to it? No, there is much more to it than that!

As faithful followers of Jesus we have a deep-rooted need to know him better; we instinctively hunger for more spirituality. And we have an opportunity to feed that hunger by carefully studying the rich spiritual meaning of the Ascension event.

For example, the disciples watched the physical body of the resurrected Jesus being lifted up on a cloud until he disappeared from their view. How do we know that the risen Jesus had a physical body?

In Matthew 28:9-10 the author writes: 9 And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” 

And in John 20:16-17 we read: 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

These Gospel passages affirm that Jesus’ risen and glorified body indeed had a type of physical presence. John 20:19 and Luke 24:13-16 also speak of the risen Jesus appearing through locked doors, disappearing again, sometimes being recognized, and sometimes not. The transformed and glorified body of Jesus appears to be equally at home on earth and in heaven and can move quickly and quietly back and forth through the thin curtain that separates the two dimensions,

Distinguished theologian and philosopher N.T. Wright says in Surprised by Hope:
“The mystery of the ascension is of course just that, a mystery. It demands that we think what is, to many today, almost unthinkable: that when the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two locations related to each other within the same spacetime continuum or about a nonphysical world contrasted with a physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also quite possibly (though this does not necessarily follow from the other two) two different kinds of what we call time.

What we are encouraged to grasp precisely through the ascension itself is that God's space and ours—heaven and earth, in other words—are, though very different, not far away from one another. Nor is talk about heaven simply a metaphorical way of talking about our own spiritual lives. God's space and ours interlock and intersect in a whole variety of ways even while they retain, for the moment at least, their separate and distinct identities and roles, One day, they will be joined in a quite new way, open and visible to one another, married forever.”

The mystery of the Ascension invites us to consider that the Lord Jesus, in his human and divine presence is in heaven, in a dimension which we are at present unable to see in its entirety. We can use an ordinary radio as an analogy. If we want to listen to our favorite station we have to turn the dial until we find it. In our present state we are unable to tune the radio to the dimension of Heaven. But, at the time of our death God gently turns the dial so that his faithful can tune in to the full dimension of heaven.

We might also mull over the possibility that Jesus is not far from us because Heaven and Earth are separated only by a thin curtain. Are there times when the curtain separating the dimension of Earth from the dimension of Heaven grows almost semitransparent? According to some traditions the answer is yes. One such tradition is thin places.

Thin places, according to Celtic spirituality, are places in Ireland and Scotland where the human and the divine seem closer together, where matter merges, where God’s presence is unmistakable, where the veil between Heaven and Earth is lifted. Another tradition is the Sursum Corda (Lift up your hearts) that we hear at every mass.

Monsignor Charles Pope writes: “Let us turn our attention to a short, often-overlooked summons to Heaven that takes place in every Mass. It takes place in a short dialogue just after the prayer over the gifts and before the singing of the Sanctus. It is called the ‘preface dialogue’ and it is really quite remarkable in its sweeping vision and heavenly call.

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right and just.

A fairly familiar dialogue to be sure. But to some extent, it fails to take wing because of the rather earthbound notion most moderns have of the Mass. Very few attending Mass today think much of the heavenly liturgy. Rather, most are focused on their parish Church, the priest in front of them, and the people around them. But this is NOT an adequate vision for the Mass. In the end, there is only one liturgy: the one in Heaven. There is only one altar: the one in Heaven. There is only one High Priest: Jesus in Heaven. In the Mass, we are swept up into the heavenly liturgy. There, with myriads of angels and saints beyond number, we worship the Father through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus. In the Mass, we are swept up into Heaven!”

When we gather at mass and accept the invitation to “Lift up our hearts” we are mystically joined with the heavenly chorus. We might even sense that we are being mystically ushered out of the dimension of earth into the dimension of heaven, into the very audience hall of God most high. And there we are joined by the other faithful, throughout the world, who are at that very moment, Lifting up their hearts at mass, being divinized.

Since Jesus was born into our humanity, our humanity is allowed to share in His divinity.

We could recall the Ascension of the Lord and say, “Jesus went up to heaven and someday he will return,” and that is all there is to it. We could also accept Jesus’ invitation to explore the rich spiritual meaning of his Ascension and if we do that, we might find ourselves growing in divinity.

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