Today is one of my favorite feast days—today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven. This day we commemorate the lordship of Jesus, his return to his Father, his ultimate victory over death, and the promise that we can join him in heaven. It’s such an important tenet of our faith that we proclaim it every time we say the Creed, in every Mass. But what always strikes me most about this day is the grief his mother, his apostles, and all those who loved him must have felt to see him leave.
Grief and faith can coexist, as can grief and joy. Motherhood is often an endless dance of these two realities. I always imagine those close to Jesus, but most especially his mother, must have ached for Jesus not to go. We know that the faithful understood who he was. We know that they knew he must return to the Father. I imagine his mother must have felt such fulfillment and joy knowing he had fulfilled his purpose, and she must have been so grateful she had more time with him after his resurrection. That time with Jesus after his resurrection was a taste of heaven. She had seen her precious son suffer and die, and then he returned to her. Can you imagine the joy?! How it must have increased all of their faith. How it must have inspired all who loved him to spread the great news of the Gospel. And yet, how they must have coveted time with him. How they must have dreaded his departure.
As a mother, I can imagine these feelings quite easily. We raise our children to leave us. We give our bodies, our time, our talents—all of who we are—to the task of raising these tiny, helpless creatures until they are self-sustaining adults. We do it so they won’t need us in the same way anymore, and yet we all wade in waters of grief mixed with joy, and sadness mixed with hope, when we watch them move on. And our children are not divine, nor are we without sin, so all of this is also mixed with feelings of failure, and doubt, and fear of the unknown. But this day, the reality of this truth—that Christ ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father—this is our hope. And this is what we prepare them for—a life in heaven, all of us together, with Jesus.
St. Augustine said of the Ascension: just as Christ remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies. We point our children toward heaven. Setting them off on the path, we point them toward his promises. This side of heaven, the sting of loss and grief will never fully disappear, but we look to the place he has prepared and can know he did not abandon us. He simply went before us—to make a way where there was no way.