"I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again I leave the world and go to the Father." St. John, 16:28.
"He ascended into heaven." Creed.
In the second century there lived a saintly widow by the name of Felicitas. She and her seven sons were staunch Christians. Despite decrees against the faith, despite the threat of death and dire punishment, Felicitas and her boys practiced their faith openly and fervently. Their example won many to the cause of Christ. This stirred the spleen of the pagan priests, who complained to Emperor Antoninus that this family was drawing many from the worship of the gods; the gods were displeased. The gods could be appeased only when this mother and her sons would sacrifice to them.
Privately and publicly the Roman officials coaxed, bribed and threatened Felicitas and her sons. To no avail. To their mingled threats and promises the courageous mother replied: "My children will live eternally with Christ if they are faithful to Him; but must expect eternal death if they sacrifice to idols."
Turning to her sons, she exclaimed: "My sons, look up to heaven, where Jesus Christ with His saints expects you. Be faithful in His love, and fight courageously for your souls."
One by one before the very eyes of their mother, the sons were put to a cruel death. At last she who suffered the pain of bringing them into this world, and the pain of ushering them into eternal life, she too, was beheaded, four months after her first child had been put to death. We remember this heroic family on July 10th.
We remember them also as we approach the feast of the Ascension, next Thursday, for St. Felicitas taught her sons one of the lessons Christ teaches us when he returned to heaven: "My sons, look up to heaven where Jesus Christ with His saints expects you."
The Ascension teaches many lessons. To think of these lessons will be a good preparation for the Feast, which usually offers too little time to dwell upon them.
First of all we want to congratulate our Lord upon His entrance into His heavenly home. When a man accomplishes something, when a man completes some task, or achieves some success, we congratulate him. We join in his joy. As Ascension day approaches we join in the joy of our Lord, the joy of returning to His heavenly Father. We congratulate Him. We tell Christ that we are happy with Him in the happiness that was deservedly His when He returned to His home with the Father. He came from His Father to us; from us He returns to His Father.
A second sentiment is one of gratitude to our Lord for the blessings of the Ascension: He has gone to prepare a place for us; He has gone to send the Holy Spirit down upon us; He has gone to intercede for us at the throne of the heavenly Father. That is why Christ reminds us: "Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it to you."
A third thought is that we can now follow our Lord in mind and heart right into the very court of heaven. We were delighted in watching and hearing Him as He walked this earth. We have joyed in His kindness, His patience, His power to cure, His desire to help. Don't stop at the door of heaven. Let your mind and heart go right in with Him.
It is as if a dear friend were admitted into some theatre before you. You have to wait your turn, weary, lonesome, in heat or cold or rain. Your friend is inside. You are happy that he is enjoying himself. You know you will be with him soon.
So on Ascension Christ has gone ahead into the delights of heaven. We are left waiting outside. But the thought of being with Him some day encourages us in our waiting. Christ has not only gone in ahead of us; He has gone to prepare a place for us. Just as if a friend were saving a place for you in the theatre.
That was the thought of St. Felicitas when a cruel death stared her and her sons in the face: "My children, look up to heaven. . . ." She knew that Jesus was waiting for them, preparing for them. That made the things of earth less important, another idea suggested by the Ascension.
We can't take the world with us. The toys and trifles of earth, no matter how important and necessary they may seem today, cannot go with us. The best way to realize and remember this is to think of the ascent of our Lord into heaven. I dare you to give this fact a "good think" between now and Thursday.
The Ascension strengthens our faith. Had Jesus remained in His bodily form, it would not have required as much faith to believe in Him and follow Him, even though many who saw Him and heard Him did not believe in Him. Now that He is in heaven where we cannot see Him, faith comes into its own.
The Ascension is a spur to our hope, our hope that one day we will be with Him, a spur to our hope that after the dark difficulties of earth we will enjoy the bright delights of company with Him.
The Ascenson kindles our love. Christ, as it were, has taken our hearts with Him to heaven. The loves of earth always have earth mixed with them. The loves of heaven are unmixed. Test your earthly loves in that eternal love.
Dwell on anyone of these thoughts between this moment and Thursday, the feast of the Ascension. Then the feast will mean much more to you. What Christ tells us will also mean much more: "I came forth from the Father. . . . Again I go to the Father." Amen.
Adapted from Talks on the Creed
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1946)