Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
It is an historical fact that our Savior, after remaining with his Apostles and disciples for precisely forty days after his Resurrection, in their sight ascended into heaven. Christ is no longer physically present among the faithful on earth, but his body has been taken up into heaven.
Now, our Lord did not abandon us, for he is present in the Church not only according to his divine nature (by which he is present everywhere and especially in the soul by grace), but even according to his human nature in his sacramental species in the Holy Eucharist. Still, Christ has ascended to heaven and thus we must assert that he is no longer present on earth as he had been before the ascension. While he did not abandon us, we must assert that his humanity is no longer present in his proper or natural species on earth.
Let us consider his glorified body, present in heaven. Does our Savior “look” upon us from heaven? How are we connected to this physical body which now receives all worship in heaven?
Where did Christ ascend to?
We have written two articles (and more) on the mysteries of the Ascension and of the Assumption. They can be found [here] and [here].
We summarize these articles:
Christ’s glorified body could not fittingly remain upon the earth, but should rather have been taken to heavenly glory. Although heaven is not simply a “place” in the normal sense of the word (and this has been explicitly affirmed by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI), yet we must assert that heaven is something of a “place” since the glorified bodies of Jesus and Mary must be there.
However, we assert that heaven is not a “place” in the way that there is “place” within our universe – heaven is not out among the stars. Rather, we say that heaven is “glorified place” or “uncontained space”, meaning that it is not within our universe or contained within our universe.
Indeed, it seems most reasonable to conclude that heaven is a “place” only insofar as there are two glorified bodies present there (namely, Jesus’ and Mary’s), and that this “place” is not part of our universe in any respect but is wholly separate.
There can be no physical relation between heaven and earth
To continue the summary:
Thus, when we claim that Jesus ascended into heaven, we assert that our Savior’s body is no longer physically present within the confines of our universe. Rather, he has gone forth from contained and containing space into heavenly glory. But we must not think that Jesus is somehow beside our universe or above our universe, for there is no “space” outside the universe. Jesus is not “up there” or “out there” somewhere, for heaven cannot be thought of as having any physical or local relation to our universe.
To be very clear: Jesus cannot possibly be “up there” or “out there”, for he is not within our universe. Rather, he is “away” and “removed” and “physically separated” from us. He is not beside or above our universe, but is simply and wholly locally removed from us.
There can be no way of speaking of a local relation between the glorified body of Jesus in heaven and his people on earth.
Does our Savior “look” at us?
St. Francis de Sales, as well as many other masters of the spiritual life, recommends that we begin prayer by considering our Savior in his sacred humanity glorified in heaven and yet looking upon us with great love.
“The third way [of calling to mind God’s presence before prayer] is to dwell upon the thought of our Lord, who in his ascended humanity looks down upon all men, but most particularly on all Christians, because they are his children; above all, on those who pray, over whose doings he keeps watch. Nor is this any mere imagination, it is very truth, and although we see him not, he is looking down upon us. It was given to Saint Stephen in the hour of martyrdom thus to behold him, and we may say with the Bride of the Canticles, He looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.” (Introduction to the Devout Life II.2)
Since we have already said that heaven cannot really be “up there” or “out there”, and further have asserted that heaven cannot be “beside” or “above” or “around” our universe, we must further assert that our Savior cannot physically look upon the earth (at least not by the natural powers of human vision).
Jesus is not millions of miles above us. He is neither further away when we are in a valley, nor closer when we are at a mountain top. Rather, the sacred Body of our Savior is in heaven – and there can be no meaningful way of speaking about any sort of physical relation between earth and heaven.
Jesus is simply not in our universe, not beside our universe, not above our universe. Rather, he is in heaven. In uncontained and glorified space. He is not here, and we cannot point to where he is.
Therefore, it is clear that Jesus cannot really be said to “look” down upon the human race – at least not with his bodily eyes. Likewise, when we lift our eyes in prayer, we do this metaphorically – we are not literally looking toward Jesus’ physical body.
Therefore, we must conclude that St. Francis (doctor though he be) is not speaking with his usual precision in this paragraph. Jesus’ bodily eyes, even glorified, cannot possibly “look” from heaven to earth, because there is no physical relation between heaven and earth, and there is no medium or space between heaven and earth across which he could gaze to see us.
But Jesus really is “looking” at us
However, if we take St. Francis de Sales in a slightly less strict fashion, we may well assert that Jesus really is “looking” at us, even in his humanity. Indeed, while his glorified bodily eyes have no power to see us, he can look at us with the eye of his human intellect.
It is most certain, in fact, that our Savior is constantly “gazing” upon us through the power of spiritual and intellectual vision. Our Lord embraced us within his Sacred Heart from the moment of his conception, and he still holds us in this loving “vision”.
“Now the only-begotten Son of God embraced us in His infinite knowledge and undying love even before the world began. And that He might give a visible and exceedingly beautiful expression to this love, He assumed our nature in hypostatic union: hence - as Maximus of Turin with a certain unaffected simplicity remarks - "in Christ our own flesh loves us." But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. O marvelous condescension of divine love for us! O inestimable dispensation of boundless charity! In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself.” (Mystici Corporis, 75)
Not merely by his divine “vision”, but even in his human intellect and in his human soul, Christ Jesus continually gazes upon each of us with immense love. If this was true while he was on earth, we know that it could not possibly cease when he entered heaven. He certainly has not forgot us!
Therefore, we assert that Jesus does “look” upon us from heaven, however this is not a physical or bodily “gazing” but rather an intellectual and spiritual vision according to which we are all help within his most Sacred and Loving Heart.