Ascension of the Lord

ON the Vigil Mass of the Ascension of the Lord on May 4, the rector of St Simon Catholic Church Likas read the sermon of St Augustine to the faithful.

Fr Cosmas Lee described St Augustine as a “great theologian and philosopher”, adding that the saint was born in the middle of the 4th century, and died in the early 5th century.

“One of the most influential fathers of the Church, he who has done a lot will help  us understand what God has done for us. Let’s listen to his sermon on the Ascension of the Lord:

Today, Jesus Christ our Lord went up to Heaven. Let our hearts go up with Him. Listen to the words of St Paul: ‘If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above. Not on things that are on earth.'(For just as he remained with us even after his ascension), so we too are already with Him in Heaven. Although His promises have not yet been fulfilled in our bodies in the flesh. 

The altar servers preparing for the procession.  – pix by Douglas Yu 

Fr Cosmas then added his own commentary to the saint’s sermon: “For St Augustine, the ascension of Jesus demands that we, too, go up with Him. Go up, above, raised, ascend – and so comes the word ‘transcendence’.

“When I was doing a pilgrimage walk  in Santiago, Spain, many people walked the hundreds of kilometres. Most of them were not religious, not even spiritual. But all of them, if they were honest, would tell you that as they did the 800km of walking, in imitation of the pilgrims who have done this for the last thousand years, they’d say they experienced something transcendence about themselves.

The offertory in progress.

“They’re not merely creatures; they’re not mere human beings of this earth; they’re not just a body, not even a psychology; they’re not just mind; not just body – but they are spirit. The ascension of Jesus sets our life as one of ascending to.

“The rule of life for every follower of Jesus is to gaze upward – ascend.

“I hope you know how to fill in the blanks for what that means. And not to be bogged down and seek the things only on this earth.”

Continuing on St Augustine’s sermon, he read:

Christ is now raised above the heavens but He still experiences on earth whatever sufferings we as his members feel. He showed that this is true when He called out from Heaven, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And ‘I was thirsty and you give Me drink’.

Why, then, do we not exert ourselves on earth so as to be happy with Him already in Heaven through the faith, hope and charity, which unites us with Him. Christ, while in Heaven, is also with us. We, while on earth, are also with Him. He is with us in His godhead and His power, and His love. We, though we cannot be with Him in godhead as He is with us, can be with Him in our love, our love for Him.

Fr Cosmas, again giving his commentary, said:

“What St Augustine is saying is, the Lord has gone up but He is still with us. That’s why He suffers in us. But we, while here, can also be with Him. How? By faith, hope and above all, by love. In other words, while on earth, we can be seated with Jesus, with the Father. Very profound.

“He did not leave Heaven when He came down to us from Heaven, and He did not leave us when He ascended to Heaven again. His own words show that He was in Heaven while He was here. He said, ‘No one has ascended into Heaven but He who descended from Heaven, the Son of man, who is in Heaven’.

“He said, ‘all this because of the unity between us and Himself, for He is our head and we are His body’. The words “no one but He” are true since we are Christ, in the sense that He is the Son of man because of us and we are the children of God because of Him.

“For this reason, St Paul says, ‘Just as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body though many are one body, so it is also with Christ’. He does not say ‘so it is with Christ’ but ‘so it is also with Christ’.

“So Christ is many members but one body. He came down from Heaven then in mercy. And it is He alone who has ascended since we are in Him through grace. This is why no one has descended but Christ and no one but Christ has ascended. Not that the dignity of the head is huge with His body but that the body in its unity is not separated from His head.

“You may find this a little difficult to understand. But what St Augustine says is this: When the Lord went up, He returned to His godhead. He, by nature, was godhead, is God. We are brought up by mercy, by grace. Because, by nature, we are not God.

“In other words, this is the theme of the Year of Mercy. The Ascension of the Lord is an act of mercy  from the part of Christ so that the members of His body, by grace, by His power, can join Him, the head, which is inseparable from the body, to ascend and to be with the Father.

“Let’s praise Jesus for His mercy, for giving us this possibility, this grace, this capacity, to ascend not just after our death, but everyday of our life on earth,” he said, concluding his sermon.

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