The Ascension – A Bittersweet Adieu

Who cannot relate to having to say “good-bye”?

From Msgr. Gentilucci’s Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

When Jesus appeared to them [Apostles] for the last time, they were all at Jerusalem, at table in the Cenacleor chamber, as Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory, Saint Bede, Lyranus, and many others, with Suarez and Silveira maintain.  He first gently reproached them with their incredulity; not, says Saint Augustine, that they had not then a perfect faith in Him, after His frequent appearances to them, but because they had not believed the words of the holy women, and had wished to see Him with their own eyes…He commanded them to announce to all nations His death, of which they were to bear a constant testimony  He promised to send them the Holy Ghost, and finally ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to await the promised gift.  Saint Luke writes that our merciful Redeemer ate with His apostles, and we are disposed to believe with Natalis Alexander and Silveira, that our Divine Lord again gave the holy Eucharist to the Apostles, to fortify them with this Bread of the strong during his long absence, and to inflame them with love and hope of heavenly things.

“…[T]owards the end of the meal the Blessed Virgin came into the chamber with the other women and the disciples; who all, either because Christ had told them, or because He had manifested it in some other way, knew that He was to ascend on that day to heaven.  It is impossible to give with certainty the number of happy witnesses of this [Ascension], yet it is believed that there were, including the eleven Apostles and seventy-two disciples, about a hundred and twenty, as there were in the Cenacle, when Saint Matthias was elected and invested with the apostleship…

The garden of Olives, where Christ began His bitter passion, and where, loaded with the sins of the world, He had humbled Himself so before His Father, seems to have been the place which He chose for His glorious triumph. [footnote: “Saint Luke, in the last chapter of his gospel, merely says that Jesus led His disciples towards Bethany, and, in the Acts of the Apostles, he relates that, after witnessing the Ascension of Christ, they returned from the garden of Olives..”]  Our Redeemer, as mystics contemplate, and it is not improbable, went forth surrounded by a band of chosen angels, and a multitude of souls who had come forth from Abrahams’ bosom, and had for ages longed for this happy moment.  Besides Christ was His beloved Mother, who, after having been the companion of her Son’s sufferings, was now the partaker of His joy and glory.  Then came the Apostles, the disciples, all who had formerly followed Jesus of Nazareth.  This privileged band of the faithful doubtless passed through the streets of Jerusalem, and as Silveira relates, by the divine will all the spectators were stupefied.  No one had the courage to ask a question or oppose the march of this blessed procession, or inform the priests and Pharisees, and the numerous party freely left the city and followed Jesus, who led them towards Bethany.  Our Lord turned His steps towards that village because it lay near the garden of Olives, or, as among others Cornelius a Lapide thinks, because Jesus wished to invite Martha and Mary, who were not in that happy company.

[T]hen turning to His beloved Mother, He said:  “O Mother –  we quote Saint John Chrysostom, – “peace be with thee; be not afflicted that I return to my Father;  I will not leave thee unconsoled, who art the glory and light of the world;  I will not leave thee, my spotless abode;  I will not leave thee, my holy temple;  I will not leave thee, who alone in the universe hast been found faithful; I will not leave thee, O holy, incorruptible ark; I will not leave thee, O Virgin, O my Mother!  Nay more, when thou shalt leave this life, I will not send an angel, but will come myself to receive thy soul more radiant than the sun.”   These [parting] words the Blessed Virgin answered with equal love:  but it is not given to the human mind to relate the words of that sweet colloquy…

But the last moment has come when the Eternal Word must leave the earth to enter into His glory.  Mary, the Apostles, disciples, and all that holy company have their eyes fixed on Christ.  With His brow encircled by splendid rays, full of joy and majesty, Jesus once more casts a look on all those bless souls; in token of love, He extends His hand to bless them all, and by His own power ascends to heaven, His face turned towards the setting sun, leaving, as a sweet and perpetual remembrance, His footprints impressed on the stone where for the last time He stood.

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