01-06-2009 - Traces, n. 6


The Ascension: the Human Being
Has Entered into Intimacy with God

Pastoral Visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI to Cassino, May 24, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). With these words, Jesus took His leave of the Apostles, as we heard in the First Reading. Immediately afterwards, the sacred author adds that “as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 9). This is the mystery of the Ascension that we are celebrating today. But what do the Bible and the Liturgy wish to tell us by saying that Jesus “was lifted up”? … In Christ ascended into Heaven, the human being has entered into intimacy with God in a new and unheard-of way; man henceforth finds room in God for ever. “Heaven”: this word Heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates Christ Himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and forever, the One in whom God and man are inseparably united forever. Man’s being in God, this is Heaven. And we draw close to Heaven, indeed, we enter Heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with Him. For this reason, today’s Solemnity of the Ascension invites us to be in profound communion with the dead and Risen Jesus, invisibly present in the life of each one of us.
In this perspective, we understand why the Evangelist Luke says that after the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (24: 52). Their joy stems from the fact that what had happened was not really a separation, the Lord’s permanent absence; on the contrary, they were then certain that the Crucified-Risen One was alive and that in Him God’s gates, the gates of eternal life, had been opened to humanity forever. In other words, His Ascension did not imply a temporary absence from the world but rather inaugurated the new, definitive, and insuppressible form of His presence by virtue of His participation in the royal power of God. It was to be up to them, the disciples emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make His presence visible by their witness, preaching, and missionary zeal. The Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension must also fill us with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did the Apostles who set out again from the Mount of Olives “with great joy.” Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the “two men in dazzling apparel,” must not stay gazing up at the sky, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit must go everywhere and proclaim the saving message of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. …

DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS, the historical character of the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension helps us to recognize and understand the transcendent condition of the Church which was not born and does not live to compensate for the absence of her Lord who has “disappeared” but on the contrary finds the reason for her existence and mission in the invisible presence of Jesus, a presence working through the power of His Spirit. In other words, we might say that the Church does not carry out the role of preparing for the return of an “absent” Jesus but, on the contrary, lives and works to proclaim His “glorious presence” in a historical and existential way. Since the day of the Ascension, every Christian community has advanced on its earthly pilgrimage toward the fulfilment of the messianic promises, fed by the word of God and nourished by the Body and Blood of her Lord. This is the condition of the Church, the Second Vatican Council recalls, as she “presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, announcing the Cross and Death of the Lord until He comes” (Lumen Gentium, no. 8).
Brothers and sisters of this beloved diocesan community, today’s Solemnity urges us to consolidate our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in history: without Him we can do nothing effective in our life or our apostolate. … My Visit today fits into this perspective. As your Pastor noted, its purpose is to encourage you “to build, found, and rebuild” your diocesan community ceaselessly on Christ. How? St. Benedict himself points out the way to us in his Rule when he recommends that we prefer nothing to Christ: “Christo nihil omnino praeponere” (LXII, 11). …

DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS, at this celebration we hear resonating St. Benedict’s appeal to keep our hearts fixed on Christ, to prefer nothing to Him. This does not distract us; on the contrary, it is an even greater incentive to build a society in which solidarity may be expressed by concrete signs. But how? Benedictine spirituality, well known to you, proposes an evangelical program that is summed up in the motto: ora et labora et lege–prayer, work, and culture. First of all is prayer which is the most beautiful legacy that St. Benedict bequeathed to the monks, but also to your particular Church… Prayer, to which with its sonorous tolling the bell of St. Benedict summons the monks every morning, is the silent path that leads us straight to God’s Heart; it is the breath of the soul that restores peace to us in the storm of life. Furthermore, at the school of St. Benedict, the monks have always cultivated a special love for the word of God in lectio divina, which today has become the common patrimony of many. …

Another pivot of Benedictine spirituality is work. Humanizing the working world is characteristic of the soul of monasticism and this is also an endeavour of your community that seeks to be beside the numerous workers in the large industry present at Cassino and in the businesses connected with it. I know how critical the situation of many of the workers is. I express my solidarity to all those who are living in a worrying and precarious plight, to workers on redundancy pay or who have actually been discharged. May the wound of unemployment that afflicts this territory induce the public authorities, entrepreneurs, and all who have means to seek, with the help of all, effective solutions to the employment crisis, creating employment in order to safeguard families. In this regard, how can we forget that the family urgently needs better protection because this institution is dangerously threatened at its very roots? Then I am thinking of the young people who have difficulty in finding dignified work that will enable them to build a family. I would like to say to them: do not feel discouraged, dear friends, the Church does not abandon you! …

Lastly, attention to the world of culture and education is part of your tradition. The famous Archives and Library of Monte Cassino contain innumerable testimonies of the commitment of men and women who meditated upon and sought ways to improve the spiritual and material life of human beings. In your Abbey, the “quaerere Deum” is tangible; that is, it is possible to feel that European culture has consisted in the search for God and the readiness to listen to Him and this also applies in our day. … It is not hard to see that your community, this portion of the Church which lives around Monte Cassino, is the heir and depositary of the mission steeped in St. Benedict’s spirit to proclaim that in our life no one and nothing must take priority over Jesus, over the mission to construct, in Christ’s name, a new humanity under the banner of acceptance and assistance to the weakest. May your holy Patriarch help you and accompany you together with St. Scholastica, his sister; and may the holy Patrons and especially Mary, Mother of the Church and Star of our Hope, protect you.