The Irish have a great saying: ‘If you don’t go away, you can’t come back!’ which I think is a perfect way to describe how Christ’s ascension to heaven, after spending 40 intimate risen and glorified days with his Mother and close friends, must have felt and should still feel for us today.
We all know the sadness of partings at airports, train and coach stations when we say farewell to loved ones who we hope to see again at some point after a long or short time. The sadness is tinged with anticipated joy of a reunion of some kind in the future and nowadays with modern communication, the distance in time and space is even less, although I do think for all its obvious advantages modern technology does take the waiting out of the wanting a bit! Anyway, my point is that like his “My God My God why hast thou forsaken me” on the cross, Christ’s departure from his Apostles was the same – a paradox of Real Presence or renewed presence in the wake of a leaving; a sort of absence but not a complete absence.
This is why the best and, I think, ideal way to appreciate how God relates is by looking at the Trinity via a ‘family’ lens. All of us know that sense of longing and yearning for loved ones far away in time or space, death or otherwise, yet hopeful and sure that we will see them again. Well that’s how the Lord sees us; close up and personal – modern technology if you like – yet from a distance, looking forward to the guaranteed reunion.
The 15th May is apparently the International Day of the Family – http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/un/international-day-of-families. This has been a UN led initiative since 1994 – the same year that the great St Pope John Paul II issued his astounding Letter to Families. Family, as St. John Paul once said, is the key to everything. Actually he said more than that! He said ‘the future of humanity passes by way of the family’. In other words civilization itself is dependent upon the values of family life and living – love, compassion, responsibility, faithfulness, fruitfulness, authenticity etc. Without these qualities or virtues humanity falls – literally. This is more than just mere humanitarianism or altruism. This is matrimonial type love, disinterested gift of self type love, other centered sacrificial love, the love that expects NO return, “gratuitousness” as Pope Benedict XVI called it (Caritas in veritate). Without this we are simply not cultured because we don’t really worship anything except our idols and that’s not adoration of the transcendent.
In ‘Witness to Hope’ his biography of John Paul II, George Weigel described culture as:
“What men and women honor, cherish and worship; what societies deem to be true and good and noble; the expression they give to those convictions in language, literature and the arts; what individuals are willing to stake their lives on.”
The key question is this; if family is the bedrock of civilization and the flourishing of humanity depends on it, what are people, especially parents, prepared to ‘stake their lives on?’ In short what are they prepared to die for?
We live in a world where this week the biggest sum of money ever has been anonymously paid for a 1950s Picasso – $160m!! That is an obscene amount of cash to spend wastefully on a painting that has been assigned a faux value in my view. But the artistic nature of part of our family based culture that has far more worth and something, I think, countless parents and grandparents would be prepared to die for is the innocence of love attached to other countless, and never seen by the public, works of art all over the world; e.g. drawings, paintings, sketches, collages by children for their parents stuck on fridges, walls, scrap books and in drawers/bookcases. I reckon some parents take those childhood drawings to their graves, literally, not so much because of the image but because of the indelible mark it has etched upon their soul and beating heart of love for their child long since grown up, themselves with their own families.
When the Lord physically left the apostles, the image of that event must have been vividly etched on their individual and collective memories – the divine imprimatur if you like of the creative work they were commissioned to now undertake from that moment in His Name. So, as we contemplate how the soles of the feet of the risen glorified body of Christ were probably the last thing of His to physically touch this earth, we know that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church He left behind to continue to be His hands, eyes, ears, feet and voice is what helps keep our feet, that is, our souls, firmly rooted, grounded and anchored amidst the storms and squalls of everyday life and its challenges.
Where the Lord has gone we are sure to follow in hope… a blessed Ascension weekend to one and all!
– Edmund Adamus
Director, Office of Marriage and Family Life – Diocese of Westminster