Proclaiming the truth about the Ascension Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, May. 12, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

Why did Christ ascend to heaven? Wouldn’t it have been nice if He had just stayed here on earth and appeared regularly for the rest of history? Wouldn’t it be nice if every so often we could go to a certain place and He would appear? Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole world simply knew the truth and would not have to seek after faith, since they would have regular audiences with Christ, our God? Wouldn’t it be nice!

What was so important that Christ, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, decided not to do it that way? What could be so important? Two things:

Christ is Eternal High Priest

First of all, the Eternal High Priesthood of Christ had to be definitively accomplished, completed, and revealed. And that Eternal High Priesthood was definitively completed and revealed only when Jesus ascended and took His place at the Father’s right hand.

It says in the Hebrew Scriptures, the one who takes his place at the Father’s right hand is, in fact, the Eternal High Priest. “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand while I make your enemies your footstool . . . You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek (Psalms 110: 1, 4)’.”

And so, Jesus had to “go home” because we need to know Him as the Eternal High Priest who offers the perfect sacrifice on our behalf and who is the one mediator between God and man. And as we come to know Christ as our Eternal High Priest, we should come to place more value on the priesthood that He has given the Church. The priesthood that Christ gave the Church has been a bit too demythologized, shall we say, and I’d like to address this briefly.

Now, the priest should not be put on a pedestal as some kind of automatic saint and almost worshipped, but that hasn’t been a problem for a long time!

Some of our young people don’t even remember when that was done, and that is just fine because the priest is called to humility and service. The priest is not called to be put on a pedestal, but neither is the priest ever called to be “just one of the guys.”

In response to the mistaken notion that the priest should be put on a pedestal, we have experienced a mistaken notion that the priest is just some do-gooding bachelor who runs a prayer show on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

The extreme informality that we have now -- calling the priest by his first name, and the priest not wearing his clerical garb even in church on Sunday -- and the lack of any sense of being “set apart,” i.e. consecrated, was part of the misinterpretation of Vatican II.

We should not return to a point where the priest is seen as Our Divine Lord Himself. However, we can help our priests and help ourselves by calling them to be something greater than what we might expect from any other Joe. In fact, we should expect our priests to be chasing after a concrete imitation of Christ the Eternal High Priest, and we should treat them with the respect that such a priest is due.

For the most part, priests will behave in a more priestly way when more is expected of them. They are called to act, on our behalf, in the person of the One who is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory! That’s who they are called to be.

And that’s a very good reason for Christ to have ascended, so that we might have a line of priests who continually offer the sacrifice of the One seated at the right hand of the Father -- the Eternal High Priest. To offer sacrifice and oblation are priestly acts, and Christ took those priestly acts and perfected them in Himself, so that the priest is called to share in the suffering and death of Jesus Himself.

Christ descended at Christmas to take on our nature and to be a priest among us, and now that the revelation of His priesthood is complete, through His sacrificial death and coming back to life, and we must see Him ascend to the right hand of the Father so that we know He is the Eternal High Priest.

Sending Holy Spirit to his Church

Christ’s Ascension meant that He would no longer be present to the world in precisely the same way. But Christ also ascended because He wanted to send His Holy Spirit, so that all would know that while the human body of Christ became immortal and ascended into Heaven, there was still a human body of Christ left in the world -- not through an apparition of Christ, but through His body, the Church! That’s the second reason the Ascension had to happen.

It was the will of the Father that Christ’s body remain present to the world, in His Church. But it can only be His body if the soul of the body is the Holy Spirit. And the Ascension is that wonderful time of transition for Christ to be revealed definitively, completely as priest and for Christ to send his Holy Spirit to be the soul of His body, the Church.

So Christ is present in the world in His body -- in His body, the Church -- which the Holy Spirit animates and which continues to participate in the one sacrifice of the Eternal High Priest at every Mass.

And again, too often it is forgotten that the Body of Christ is here and present in the world animated by the Holy Spirit!

Instead the Church is treated like a club, even by her own members! How often does it happen that Catholic people will “greet” the priest after Mass by pointing out to him all that they don’t like . . . “Father, you change the music here and I’m leaving the parish!” That’s like saying “I don’t like the Madison branch of the Kiwanis Club and the way it functions, so I’m going to go over to the Kiwanis Club in Janesville, even though I have to drive a longer distance because I’m going to get what I want!”

Once the priesthood of Christ is diminished, the Church becomes a club. And people do all kinds of shopping around for which chapter of the club makes them the happiest. And that’s where we are. (Confronting the priest after Mass with some personal complaint has become a way of life for some, which must be discontinued.)

So, this mystery of the Ascension has a lot to say to us Catholic people; we must appreciate the mystery. And we must go out and proclaim the truth about the Ascension, the truth about the priesthood of Christ, and the truth about the Church.

And by the power of the Resurrection and the Ascension, I know all of you have the grace to do absolutely that. And I know that because of Christ, risen and ascended, working in you, the situation in the Church is going to continue to get better, and better, and better -- as it certainly has in so many places here and around the country.

So, Jesus said go forth and preach the Gospel to all the nations when He ascended. He says that to you, and He says that to me today.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. God bless each and every one of you!

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!