A Meditation for The Ascension
by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
The confidence to ask the Lord for the things which are necessary for our salvation and the salvation of others, is one of the foundations of Christian living.
This confidence is a wonderful gift, and to fan it into flames, we need to follow it with a consideration on the gentle but pressing Presence, the Lord Jesus surrounds His faithful with, who call upon His Name!
If one reads through the Old Testament, one can discover many wonderful and awe-inspiring examples of just how good God can be to those who are faithful, and just how terrible He can be to those who are unfaithful.
In regard to how wonderful and good He can be to those who are faithful, Our Lord proclaims in the New Testament and most consoling truth:
Lo! I am with you always, even unto the consummation of the age!
Which some Bibles in English render as, Behold! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!
The thought that Our Lord is nearby and at hand, and present, is a most consoling thought and consideration. But to understand and appreciate this great grace, we need to first put it into proper context, and understand aright, what Our Lord is referring to.
First, let us consider what Our Lord IS NOT referring to. We live in an age of faithlessness, of apostasy, of infidelity, of heresy, and of out right paganism and the revival of the same.
One horrible error and perverse practice which has arisen in recent decades is called the “New Age Movement”. And one error of this movement says that anyone can spiritually connect into some greater spiritual power or presence, at will.
On account of this pagan superstition, promoted by such films as Star Wars, or by the promotion of the sale of crystals or by those who advocate going to spiritual places to be “energized” or “to get into contact” with spiritual power; there are not a few of the faithful who believe, that Christian life is not about sanctification, but about being “empowered” spiritually, and about being “spiritual”.
Worse of all, this error holds, that being “spiritual” has nothing to do with being morally upright, with the observance of the 10 commandments.
The insidiousness of these errors of the New Age Movement, requires that we consider very carefully and exactly, what our Holy Catholic Faith teaches, and distinguish the truths of Our Faith, from these detestable errors.
Yes, it is true, that being spiritual, does not require that you be moral or upright. The proof of this is that Satan, the most evil and devious spirit, is by nature a pure spirit, and thus has a pure spirituality. He is very a very spiritual angelic person, but he is very evil and immoral.
So, as far as we Catholics are concerned, it is evident that if the Devil is very spiritual, that being spiritual is not the measure by which a Catholic can measure his fidelity to the Lord, or his progress in God’s grace, nor his sanctification by virtue.
As human beings, we can only be so spiritual, and we cannot be perfectly spiritual, since for us humans, such a spirituality would be unnatural and thus sinful.
This is because, as humans, we are composed of 1 soul and 1 body. We are in truth, both our soul and our body. But both together. That is why when our soul separates from the body, in death, we can truly say, not only that our bodies “die”, but that “we” die.
If were were perfectly spiritual, we would not be living with a body; and since having a body is part of human nature, such a perfect spirituality is not proper for men.
Now, do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that we ought not be holy, or that we ought not be spiritual in the proper sense of the term.
And to understand what I mean to say, let me first explain, another term: “carnal”. What is of the flesh, is carnal; but in the terminology of St. Paul the Apostle, “carnal” has the meaning of “disordered by concupiscence”, that is by that spiritual disease which entered into man by Adam’s sin. After Adam’s sin, man’s flesh became carnal in a sense it was not before. Before, his flesh was carnal in the sense that “carnal” means nothing more than “of flesh”. But after his flesh became “carnal” in the sense that his flesh became subject to the disorder of concupiscence, which is called the fomes of sin. “Fomes” in Latin, means “tinderbox”, and St. Augustine uses this term to indicate that concupiscence in our flesh, is the tinder upon which sinful movements arise in our hearts and bodies.
So we should be spiritual, in the sense that we should mortify ourselves, body and soul, against concupiscence, that is against having a carnal mind, or living according to the sinful impulses of the flesh.
But it is better to call this “the work of our sanctification” or “the pursuit of perfection,” than “spirituality,” because while it is true that Dominicans have a particular spirituality, and Franciscans, and Carmelites and Benedictines, etc., too; it is also true to say that Satan has his own spirituality; but that is not anything we want to know or imitate!
Back to the words of Our Lord:
Thus, when Our Lord makes us the wonderful promise or proclamation, that He will be with us, unto the end of time, we must first understand that this promise is not true in all times and places. This seems a contradiction, so let me explain.
Yes, it is true, that this promise is true in all times and places; but it is also false to say that it is true in all times and places. This is because, we, in all times and places, do not deserve to benefit from this promise; and so in all times and places we cannot PRESUME that Our Lord is with us. For that reason, to avoid presumption, we ought not ASSUME that Our Lord is with us; we must rather work and strive to be worthy of His Presence!
When we do work and do strive to be worthy of His continual Presence, then these words of Our Lord become true. Not because our power makes them true, or our effort, or that we merit that they be true; no! Rather, because when we are worthy of His Presence, He makes His Presence felt, as it were. And when we do not merit it, He makes Himself absent, as it were, that is, He does not intervene in our lives with graces and mercies, lights an protections, and leaves us to ourselves — which is a most horrible fate.
For this reason we must be on the alert for 2 kinds of spiritual paralysis, which makes us insensible to the Presence of Christ: blindness and indifference. The Catholic who is blinded by mortal sin or by habitual venial sin, knows still by faith that Our Lord is present, for example, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, but it means nothing to him personally. Likewise, a Catholic who by habitual sin or neglect lives as if this truth means nothing, even while confessing it on his lips, suffers from a hardening of the heart, which is called “indifference.”
A wonderful example to illustrate this, is the simple and beautiful faith of Catholics of the Eritrean Rite. The Eritrean Catholics, unlike us Romans, when waiting for the church to open, do not stand with their backs to the door of the church; no, they stand with their faces to the door. If you ask them why, they say that it is because Our Lord is present in the Church, and they are waiting for Him to open the doors of His House to them!
Likewise, if you have a living faith and ardent love for Our Lord, it is second nature for you, when passing a Catholic Church were the Sacrament is reposed, to want, as it were, to go and embrace that church, give it a hug, as it were, since it is where Our Lord is dwelling. We do not hug the doors or corners of our Churches, but perhaps that is because we are just not fervent enough!
Second, to understand the words of Our Lord, upon which we are meditating this month, we need to understand what the word “present” means.
“Present” in English comes from “praesens” in Latin; in Latin the word means “being before” that is “in front of”, or in other words, “before the face of”. What is present, therefore, is right in front of you, you need only open your eyes to see it.
Obviously, when we speak of the Presence of God, we are using a metaphor, because God, as God, is not present physically, that is corporally, anywhere; simply because God is a pure Spirit, and has no body which is bound by spatial dimensions or locations.
We we say God is present, we mean that He is attentive by His Power, Knowledge and Love. Though God is in no place, He is present to every place, because He created every place, and sustains every place in being. All places, as it were, are in the palm of His Hand, and so wherever we are, we are not far from Him, ontologically speaking, even if we are far from him, spiritually speaking, because we are in sin or blinded by sin or made indifferent in our hearts by sin.
With these distinctions made and these errors avoided, we are now prepared to consider what Our Lord DOES mean by this holy words: Lo! I am with you always, even unto the consummation of the age!
Our Lord is not present to us, without any purpose. It is for our salvation! not for our sense of sentimental peace or well being. God does nothing without purpose, and if He is actively attentive by His Power, Knowledge and Love, that is by His Grace and Mercy, it is to save us, and to help us towards salvation, or to aide us to help others towards their own.
God makes His presence known to us, in a variety of ways. Often it is by a grace which enlivens our soul, so that we make and act of love, faith, or hope, which move us toward observing His Commandments or evangelical Counsels, or the precepts of the Church, or to fulfilling some particular duty. Nearly every time, Our Lord works this actual grace through the mediation of our guardian Angel; sometimes through the mediation of a special Angel, associated with such a work, virtue, place, or person; often through the intercession of some Saint, and always through the Mediation of Jesus and Mary, who always have at heart and on their mind, our salvation.
God is present, also, in two ways: actively and passively. Actively by the manifestation of His Power or grace. “Passively” when we are in the state of grace, in the sense, that we need not do anything to have Him present, since sanctifying grace makes Him present to us, and we to Him. “Passively”, Christ is also present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, in the sense that He need not do anything, nor we, that He be present there, since He has already made Himself present there Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity; the Divinity by means of the Humanity. But God is so infinitely Active, that even when He is passively present, He is active, that is working grace and mercy in us or for us.
But the secret of sanctification lies in a wonderful truth, which is taught throughout the Old Testament and which is valid and applicable to our days, now that Our Lord has Ascended to His Father on High. This truth is not emphasized in the New Testament, because in the New Testament the Apostles and Evangelists were emphasizing the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord, and the New Covenant wrought in His Blood.
The secret of which I speak refers to a the power and efficacy of a “spiritual covenant” with the Lord. Each and every man woman or child, who has supernatural faith, can make a covenant with the Lord, and thereby make himself present to God and God to him, not by grace, but by a certain sort of spiritual contract, whereby one commits oneself to doing good works, and thereby to meriting those actual graces which lead to God’s greater blessings.
Now the motivation to make such a covenant comes from God, because in the work of our sanctification, man does nothing first. So what I say here, presumes those cases where the Holy Spirit is giving the grace. And we know by God’s working in the Old Testament and New Testament, that He wants men to make these kinds of spiritual covenants.
In the Old Testament these covenants were the bread and butter, as it were, of the Jewish religion; but in the New Testament Age in which we live, they are secondary and very inferior to the Covenant wrought in Christ’s Blood; nay, they are only effective in that Blood, that is, when employed to arrive at doing Christ’s will on earth.
Each one of us can make a covenant with the Lord, which regards any good work, great or small. The vows of religious are a type of covenant; marriage vows are another; a private vow to go on pilgrimage, to give up drinking or smoking, or some particularly grave vice, such as gossiping, each of these are spiritual covenants, when we promise God to fulfill them or do them.
According to an exaggerated fear, common to the age of Jansenism, when to save souls from the extremity of scrupulosity in which they thought everything was a sin, confessors were apt to counsel nothing under the obligation of a promise — an exaggeration which went so far as to lead some new religious communities not to take vows! — many a manual or book on the spiritual life counseled against making promises to the Lord. This is quite unimaginable, and quite unbelievable, that anyone would counsel something so diametrically opposed to all that God has revealed! simply out of fear that some scrupulous person, out there somewhere, might fall into trouble by such a promise!
Oh, what scruples to avoid scruples!
Nay, rather, God wants us to enter into such a covenant with Him; and to show us that He is very pleased by it, we have only read of the wonderful blessings God bestowed upon the Jews of the Kingdom of Judah in the Books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Judges, to see the efficacy of this spiritual practice.
When we promise the Lord to do a good work, habitually, or give up a habitual morally bad habit, we show God respect, trust, love, honor, and give Him glory, as the God of all Justice and Holiness! And this is, indeed, a thing very pleasing to God, the Holy Ghost, who is infinitely zealous for our progress in all holiness and virtue, for by such a progress we are conformed to Him.
In making any such covenant, we merit immediately the remission of some of the temporal punishment for sins, esp. for the sins we have promised to avoid.
Indeed, the spiritual life of sanctification, cannot go forward without such promises or covenants. Spiritual stability for us feeble, unstable men is founded upon a chain of such promises, well made and well thought out, and faithfully kept, even if at the beginning, it is difficult or we fail.
These covenants are the stages of the life of perfection, the training in the art of spiritual warfare that the Lord wants to train us in.
For those who want a suggested formula for a general covenant of life with the Lord Jesus, here is a suggested formula:
A Covenant Prayer with the Sacred Heart of Jesus
O Sacred Heart of Jesus! Thou art the Great and Wonderful Lord, the Mighty God! Who has descended from Heaven, to sweat and suffer and die, rejected, so that I might live and have life eternal! Who ascended into Heaven to prepare a place for me in Thy Eternal Kingdom! Who dost stand before the Throne of Mercy of Thy Eternal Father, ever interceding for us! Hear, I beg Thee, the prayer of a most unworthy creature!
Mindful of all that Thou has done for me, and of how much I, a wretched sinner, need Thee: I resolve this day to make this covenant with Thee: I take Thee to be My God, and I surrender myself to be Thy servant and subject!
I will do what Thou has commanded! I will head what Thou has counseled! I will obey Thy Voice speaking to me through the true Pope, Benedict XVI, and the priests in communion with him, who are my sacred pastors. I will mind the precepts of the Church, and confess my sins, especially resolving to uproot the vice of _________. I am confident that with Thee all good things are possible, and that Thy grace is sufficient for me! For to have Thee, is to have all, in time and eternity!
Help me, Save me, O most Merciful Heart of Jesus! Make me be all Thine, and be always at my side, to help, protect, enlighten and guide me, this day, and to bring me safely to Thy Eternal Kingdom, in Heaven. Amen.
O Blessed Virgin, intercede for me, and obtain for me the grace to keep this covenant with your Divine Son! To be faithful to it, all my days. Amen.
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CREDITS: The Featured Image is a detail from Gebhard Fugel’s, The Ascension of Christ, which is in the public domain, the original of which is in the Catholic Parish Church of St. Johannes Baptist, Obereschach, Stadt Ravensburg, Germany.