Today the Church celebrates the Ascension of the Lord. We remember today Jesus the Head has gone before us to Heaven. We the Body remain below, but always united to Him through our baptism and the sacraments of the Church. We are the Mystical Body, the human family, united to Jesus our Head in heaven.
Today on this day of joy, however, our hearts are heavy with the state of our world. We can’t but be praying and thinking of the recent tragedies of the last two weeks in our nation. The horrendous evil acts of violence on innocent human lives. Our hearts and prayers are with those who are suffering there and throughout the world. The human person is united to each other and all of us in one way or another are affected by these evil acts.
The question that came to my mind this week was…
Why are we surprised? Why are we shocked?
In his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Saint John Paul II Gospel grieved at what he called a culture of death that has evolved in our society:
This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love, and care is considered useless (EV, 12).
This breakdown in the culture started well before this landmark document. As the Holy Father stated, in the name of efficiency, selfish consumerism and comfort, various structures of sin have found a place in our society. There’s the obvious structural evils, such as those which support abortion, laid as the cornerstone of this culture, around which are situated the structures enabling euthanasia, artificial contraception, pornography, the drug trade, gun and human trade and so on…. These structures are a bulwark against the full flourishing of the human person, an attack on all that is beautiful, true, and good. As a society we have all, in some degree, allowed these evils to become a part of norms. These structures have a ripple effect and have broken down the moral fabric of the human family. They damage us both physically and spiritually. They come with a widespread disregard for the dignity of each human person. We also see this disregard in our inter-communication with one another. A wider chasm in political and ecclesial respectful dialogue has become virtually extinct.
Much of this also has to do with widespread corruption both within the political and societal systems and within the Church Herself. Powerful entities who’ve put these evils in place. So, how do we fix these things? How do we effect change within such power?
Just as evil and darkness have a ripple effect through the human family, much more do goodness and holiness. On this great feast, we are called to rededicate ourselves to building a culture of life. Just as the culture of death has its own structures by which it operates, so too does the Christian life, whereby we can begin building a culture of life. There are no surprises here either. These structures include the sacramental life of the Church, which place us into immediate contact with the healing and fortifying action of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Incarnate, the cornerstone of the eternal City of God. Around these seven central structures of the culture of life are placed Scripture, the word of God, given to us so that we might know how to live the life we receive in the sacraments. Additionally, individual and communal prayer, and the vast array of devotional practices given to us out of the treasure houses of the Church. Together, these are the tools given to us to cultivate our friendship with the Lord Jesus so that we can, in turn, bring others into friendship with Him as well. This is the culture of life, living in communion with Him Who Is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).
Jesus’ Ascension into heaven is the goal for each one of us, this is where the hearts of believers long to be. The Ascension opens God’s glory to us, a glory revealed to us through the life of the Church, her sacraments, Scriptures, and devotions. These bring us joy, a taste of the things of Heaven. We’re faithful to them in order to be close to Jesus here, and hope to be fully united to Him in the life to come. But we are also thereby given hope to trust amidst the darkness in some aspects of the world, for Jesus is with us, and interceding for us at the Father’s right hand. Christ, the Head, has opened for us the way to eternal life. He has conquered all, and He desires for each one of us to be with Him, for to be with Him is truly life in abundance.
We pray today on this great feast of the Ascension to faithful members of Christ’s body. To build trust in Christ the head. To be faithful to Him and allow Him to heal His Body, the human family, the Church.
Fr. Aidan, OSB
Fr. Aidan is a Benedictine monk and priest of the Abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Louis in Saint Louis, Missouri. Father Aidan grew up in Saint Louis with his mother and father and two sisters in a working class Irish Catholic family. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2015, on the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, and currently serves as the Pastor of Saint Anselm Parish in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. Fr. Aidan holds a BA in English Literature from Webster University in Saint Louis, and a MDiv from Saint John XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts.
Father Aidan prays his contributions will help the faithful discover how the Benedictine virtues of obedience and humility, can be helpful in their particular vocation to seek the image of Christ through purity of heart in their lives.