"They shall lay hands upon the sick and they shall get well." St. Mark, 16:18.
Imagine a woman paying $1,000 in order to be sure that she will some day ascend into heaven. That is what a Chicago housewife paid back in 1942. Here is how it happened. A movement or religion called the "I AM" religion had been started by a man and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Guy Ballard. Mrs. Ballard maintained that she could ascend to heaven any time, but that she "would stay here until her followers were ready to ascend." Through the mail they advertised this wonderful ascension. The Chicago lady, a Mrs. Maude Hill, was deeply impressed with the beauty of making a bodily ascension. She gave the founders of the "I AM" movement $1,000 in the hope of achieving this marvel. The Ballards advised her to continue in her efforts to accomplish an ascension and to "use a violet consuming ray to purify her body, live apart from her husband and think only fine thoughts." All this was made known when the Ballards were tried in court for defrauding through the mails.
What a far cry this silly story from the true story of the Ascension as we read it in the Gospel. After His glorious Resurrection our Lord appeared many times to His disciples, advising them, instructing them, giving them directions about their work in the world. Forty days after the first Easter Jesus took His Blessed Mother, the eleven Apostles and a number of His disciples to Mt. Olivet, a little over a mile from Jerusalem. From the top of that mountain He ascended by His own power into heaven. As the group stood gazing after Him, two angels in white garments stood near and announced: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you have seen him going up to heaven." Acts, 1:10,11.
St. Bonaventure, great Franciscan and doctor of the Church, bosom friend of St. Thomas Aquinas, gives us some stirring thoughts regarding the Ascension: "Never in heaven was there a day so grand and solemn. . . . It is the accomplishment of the mysteries of the life, and the blessed close of the earthly course for our Lord, Son of the living God. For His sake is this day more dear and solemn than all the others, and he who truly loves God will be more powerfully excited to praise Him on it, than on any other day of the year."
On this day Christ ascends to heaven that He might send His comforting Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Today He opens heaven for us. Today He ascends that He might be a Mediator between ourselves and the Father. Today He ascends that He might draw our souls to heaven after Him.
But Jesus paid a price for the Ascension. It was not such a silly arrangement or bargain as that made by the woman in Chicago who paid $1,000 for the privilege of rising bodily to heaven. But Jesus paid a price. He paid the price in a life of poverty, hard work, and misunderstanding. He paid the price in His bitter passion and torturing death. He paid the price with the last drop of His Precious Blood.
You and I must also pay a price for the privilege of ascending into heaven with Christ. There are two paths to the palace of our Prince: The way of innocence and the way of penance. By disobeying and offending the King of heaven we have made it necessary to set things right, to settle accounts, to make good for our sins, before we can be admitted to the heavenly court.
Thank God for the great grace of the Sacrament of Confession whereby we are restored to His friendship; whereby we are made able to ascend with Christ. As we are considering Confession at the present time of the year, it will be well to realize that this sacrament is a true key to heaven. It is one of the keys which Jesus gave to St. Peter and His Church in the words: "I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,; and whatever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." St. Matthew, 16:19.
There is your key. But you must pay for it. You must pay the price in a good confession. Often we hear the groundless, senseless accusation that we Catholics have to pay to have our sins forgiven - so much for murder, so much for cursing, so much for unkind talk. If that were the case, would we priests be rich! Yet, in a sense, we do have to pay for confession, not in money, but in a sincere sorrow for all our sins. We pay the price by making up our minds that we will never offend God again. We pay the price by telling our sins to the priest and following his advice and admonition. We pay the price by performing the penance imposed on us. We pay the price by rising from the grave of sin, so that we can also ascend with Christ. Ascension follows resurrection. You must rise before you can ascend.
Indeed, for many of us it would be easier to pay $1,000 or even a million dollars to be sure of ascending with Christ. Following Christ is not easy;
it is not bought in that way.
You buy your way into heaven with love. And when you go back on that love you buy forgiveness with sorrow and amendment and confession and satisfaction.
Today think of confession in that light. Think of it as the key, the means, the pathway to heaven. Use it often. Use it intelligently. Use it fruitfully. To priests in the confessional we can apply what Jesus tells us today: "They shall lay hands upon the sick and they shall get well."
Look up as our Lord ascends and ask Him to help you make the most of this merciful means, this key of heaven - the sacrament of Confession.
Adapted from Talks on the Sacraments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne,OFM (© 1947)