And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight. (Acts of the Apostles 1:9)
For forty days after his Resurrection, Christ remained with the Apostles showing himself by many proofs truly to have been raised from the dead. However, after these days were fulfilled, our Savior withdrew his physical presence from his disciples and ascended into heaven.
While we know that the good Jesus has done all things rightly, we may nevertheless ask whether it may not have been better for him to remain on earth. Why did the Lord ascend into heaven? While it is clearly better for him, it does not at first seem to be beneficial for us.
Christ ascended for himself and his glory
It is fairly easy to see that it is greater for Christ that he ascend to heaven rather than remain on earth. After the Resurrection, our Savior’s body is no longer subject to corruption, but the world we live in is yet a place of generation and corruption. Christ’s body was glorified, but the world is not yet glorified.
Therefore, it is fitting on Christ’s part that he ascend to heaven which is a place of incorruption. Further, heaven is the place of perfect glory, and is the fitting place for the glorified body of our Lord.
Indeed, the real question – in relation to Christ considered in himself – is not “Why did he ascend to heaven?”, but rather “Why didn’t he ascend sooner?”
We answer that our Lord desired to remain on the earth for forty days so as to clearly manifest the truth of his Resurrection. And, indeed, he received great glory through remaining for this time on earth, since he inspired faith in the hearts of his disciples.
Christ ascended for our benefit
However, our Lord did not ascend only for his own benefit, but also for that of his disciples. Surely, the primary reason for the Ascension is that it is befitting to the glory of God and of his Christ, but it is also of great aid to us who remain. Indeed, we must hold that it was better for us that Christ withdraw his bodily presence from us.
Our Savior ascended into heaven to increase our faith, hope, and charity.
Our faith, which is of things unseen, is increased, since now we no longer see him with our eyes but yet believe. If, on the contrary, our Lord had remained on earth, we would not have as much room for faith – since we would see him clearly.
Further, we add that, had Jesus remained on earth to live constantly with his disciples, we would be tempted to think that his Resurrection had restored him only to natural earthly life rather than to a new life of glory. It was for this reason that our Savior spoke to Mary Magdalene, Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. (John 20:17)
Again, our hope is uplifted. For, by ascending to heaven, Christ places his human nature into glory and thereby opens the way for all men. Thus, as our hearts and minds are raised to behold Jesus’ humanity glorified in heaven, we hope that we to may attain to that same place of beatitude.
Further, the fervor of our charity is directed to heavenly things. Thus St. Paul wrote, Seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. (Colossians 3:1-2)
Finally, we must stress that – even if our Lord is no longer present among us in his proper bodily species, as he was during the time before the Ascension – neither as he abandoned us. For, firstly, he is present to us in his divinity. And, secondly, he is present always through the sacraments, and especially through the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
Could the Holy Spirit have come before the Ascension?
But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow hath filled your heart. But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:6-7)
Most certainly, the Holy Spirit could have been sent before the Ascension – for whatever the Son can do, so to can the Holy Spirit (and the Son came to earth before the Ascension). Further, the Holy Spirit did in fact descend before the Ascension, since he visibly came down upon the humanity of Christ at the Baptism.
However, it was more fitting that the Holy Spirit’s descent upon Mary and the Apostles should be delayed until after the Ascension, since this made it clear that the Holy Spirit was sent by the Son together with the Father and even through the causality of the Sacred Humanity of our Savior.
Thus, again, it is both for the glory of the Son and for the benefit of man that the descent of the Holy Spirit came after the Ascension.
Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle within them the fire of thy love!