The following is an excerpt from the Holy Father's sermon on Ascension Day last year. Even though, by order of our bishops, many of us have to wait until Sunday to celebrate this great solemnity (not one of their better decisions), Thursday is the actual day, so it seemed good to me to post these words:
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven?” (Acts 1:11).
Brothers and Sisters, today we hear once again this question from the Acts of the Apostles. This time it is directed to all of us: “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” The answer to this question involves the fundamental truth about the life and destiny of every man and woman.
The question has to do with our attitude to two basic realities which shape every human life: earth and heaven. First, the earth: “Why do you stand?” - Why are you here on earth? Our answer is that we are here on earth because our Maker has put us here as the crowning work of his creation. Almighty God, in his ineffable plan of love, created the universe, bringing it forth from nothing. Then, at the completion of this work, he bestowed life on men and women, creating them in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27). He gave them the dignity of being children of God and the gift of immortality. We know that man went astray, misused the gift of freedom and said “No” to God, thus condemning himself to a life marked by evil, sin, suffering and death. But we also know that God was not resigned to this situation, but entered directly into humanity’s history, which then became a history of salvation. “We stand” on the earth, we are rooted in the earth and we grow from it. Here we do good in the many areas of everyday life, in the material and spiritual realms, in our relationships with other people, in our efforts to build up the human community and in culture. Here too we experience the weariness of those who make their way towards a goal by long and winding paths, amid hesitations, tensions, uncertainties, in the conviction that the journey will one day come to an end. That is when the question arises: Is this all there is? Is this earth on which “we stand” our final destiny?
And so we need to turn to the second part of the biblical question: “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” We have read that, just as the Apostles were asking the Risen Lord about the restoration of Israel’s earthly kingdom, “He was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” And “they looked up to heaven as he went” (cf. Acts 1:9-10). They looked up to heaven because they looked to Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, raised up on high. We do not know whether at that precise moment they realized that a magnificent, infinite horizon was opening up before their eyes: the ultimate goal of our earthly pilgrimage. Perhaps they only realized this at Pentecost, in the light of the Holy Spirit. But for us, at a distance of two thousand years, the meaning of that event is quite clear. Here on earth, we are called to look up to heaven, to turn our minds and hearts to the inexpressible mystery of God. We are called to look towards this divine reality, to which we have been directed from our creation. For there we find life’s ultimate meaning.