Ignatius and the Ascension
Although many regions of the world, including Canada, transfer the Feast of the Ascension to Sunday, the traditional day for the celebration is today. igNation will acknowledge Mother’s Day on Sunday, so here are a few thoughts on Ascension.
Ascension commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Christians have been observing the feast since the early days of the church.
The first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles tells us, “After his suffering, he showed himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”
The Ascension does not mark the end of Jesus’ relationship with the church but the beginning of a new way of his relating to the world through the church.
The Church Fathers write of the commemoration of Ascension. Leo the Great tells us that the Ascension completes our faith in he who was both divine and human. It renders our faith more excellent and stronger.
Ignatius of Loyola spent some time in the Holy Land, visiting the holy places associated with the life and death of Jesus. Ignatius desired a lengthy stay in the Holy Land, but the Franciscans were against the idea. Experience told them that this could be problematic.
Before he took his leave, Ignatius decided to make a return visit to the Mount of Olives. He describes the experience in his autobiography. It’s a good story that reveals a few things about the faith life and pious practices of the early Ignatius.
Remember that Ignatius wrote his autobiography in the third person, so just change “he” to “I” to hear Ignatius’ personal experience.
“On the Mount of Olives there is a stone from which our Lord ascended into heaven, and his footprints are still visible there. This was what he [Ignatius] again wanted to see. Thus, without saying anything, and without taking a guide (for those who go about without a Turk as guide run great risks), he slipped away from the others and went by himself to the Mount of Olives.
The guards there did not want to let him enter, but he gave them a penknife that he had with him. After he had said his prayers with heartfelt consolation, he got the desire to go to Bethphage.
While there he remembered that on the Mount of Olives he had not taken full notice of the direction in which the right foot was pointing and which way the left. On his return there he gave his scissors, I think, to the guards so that they would let him enter.
When the monastery learned that he had left without a guide, the friars made every effort to find him. As he was coming down from the Mount of Olives he met a Christian of the Girdle who worked at the monastery. The Christian was carrying a large staff and, showing his great annoyance, waved it as if he were about to beat him up.
When he came up to him, the servant vigorously grabbed him by the arm, and he let himself be led away easily. The good man never let him go. As he was going along the road, held tightly by the Christian, our Lord granted him great consolation, and it seemed to him that he saw Christ above him the whole way. This consolation remained with him in great measure until he arrived at the monastery.”
As we celebrate the Ascension this Sunday, let’s ponder the ways in which this feast strengthens our faith.