For over a decade, standing at the altar I had a beautiful stained glass window of the ascension right in front of me. The disciples, all gathered, looking heavenward as Jesus ascends to the right hand of the Father. This represents not only Jesus’ victory over death and the grave, but also gives us hope of bodily resurrection ourselves.
But is that all? Standing looking at the ascension window for over a decade gave me time to think. Yes there is the obvious hope of resurrection, and that hope gave me joy. But it also gave me pause to think, “how can I make certain that I can also one day ascend to heaven”?
Protestants believe that one can be assured of ascending to heaven if they will proclaim Jesus as Lord. I found this problematic on the surface, as there have been some very evil people in history that proclaimed Christ as their Lord while perpetrating evil works on their fellow man. But as we go deeper into reformation theology we find that the reformers believed (and currently hold) that man is created evil, irredeemable. Nothing we can do through works can justify our brokenness to the Lord; except proclaim Him as Lord. The word “nothing” to me is pretty absolute, so how can such an action, or dare I say work, (proclaiming Jesus as Lord) justify us with God? If we can do nothing of our own accord; how is it possible to walk to the front of the church and say a prayer and be saved? Of course the more savvy protestant will bring predestination to the table in order to fix this problem. It was not your “work” of saying that Christ is Lord that saved you, you were created for God, where as others where created for the devil. Those who claimed Christ as Lord were predestined to do so, it was no work on your part. This did not sit well with me. If I were predestined, that is made for God, while others, maybe even a family member, was made for the devil, why then did I have to do anything? I was made for God, case closed. Even if I lived the most deplorable life, and my brother who was made for the devil lived the most holy life, I would still ascend and my brother would be thrown into the eternal fire. Of course, the reformer would return with irresistible grace. If saved, I could not help but do godly actions. But if this is true, I have another issue; please raise your hand if you have never sinned. Irresistible seems to be a different word than what I learned in grade school, perhaps it’s resistible for “minor” mortal sins but irresistible for “major” mortal sins? And lets not even bring up the idea of free will!
Catholics are justified by faith through baptism and subsequent good works. As we are all born in the image of God and all meant for good, we all are called to do the works of the Father as He lays out. Some of us choose to pick up these works, some of us chose not to. As we work with the Father, at times we fall short of the mark. At these times we have by the grace of God through the work of Jesus on the cross an opportunity for complete and final forgiveness through the sacrament of confession.
As we look at the ascension, and wonder how we too might be taken into heaven, we should all to readily see that God has made us for Himself. He wants nothing more than for us to be with Him…all of us! He wants us in heaven so badly that He has not only given us His only Son as a living sacrifice, but He also gave us the sacraments of the Church as supernatural steps back to Him. But we must choose this path, it is not chosen for us. If we wind up in hell, it is because we chose to be there. If we wind up in heaven likewise, it is because we took advantage of all the graces God has given us in the Church.
Please do not think that your life has already been written, and that you simply are who you find yourself to be right now. It may well be beyond your personal ability to change, but it is not beyond God’s ability. Within the Catholic Church there has been made available to us grace upon grace, all of which are there to help us change for the better.
As we look at the ascension we should all make the choice that we too will be ascended. We should then act upon that choice by making frequent confessions (monthly…or at the occasion of mortal sin) and going to mass habitually. We should pray daily and do the works God has called us to do.
Let us rejoice in the ascension, knowing that Christ has gone before us preparing the way not for a few, but for all who chose to follow Him.