View all Novenas | November 3, 2023
Part 4 – God the Son – Week 7
Part 4 – God the Son – Week 7
He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father
Ratzinger’s reflection on Christ’s ascension into Heaven is the parallel, or the answer, to his description Christ’s descent into ‘hell.’ For if the latter is total loneliness and abandonment, he tells us, then Heaven is the absolute fulfillment and joy that comes from being with, from union with, the one who loves us completely, understands and supports us fully, forgives us unconditionally, fills us up and satisfies us entirely. Heaven is, in other words, not so much a ‘place’ as perfect union with God and, in and with Him, perfect union with all other men. But what that also means, Ratzinger continues, is that Heaven is also not just a future state, something that awaits us ‘in eternity.’ Rather it is something that we can and should experience and participate in now – in this life. In and with Christ, he tells us, the Eternal has become time. In and with Christ, we can already begin to live that union with God that will one day be completed when we finally behold Him face to face.
“We have already come to see that the descent into hell […] turns our gaze to the depths of human existence, which reach down into the valley of death, into the zone of untouchable loneliness and rejected love, and thus embrace the dimension of hell, carrying it within themselves as one of their own possibilities. Hell, existence in the definitive rejection of “being for’, is not a cosmographical destination but a dimension of human nature, the abyss into which it reaches down at its lower end. We know today better than ever before that everyone’s existence touches these depths; and since in the last analysis mankind is “one man”, these depths affect not only the individual but also the one body of the whole human race, which must therefore bear the burden of them as a corporate whole. […]
On the other hand, the Ascension of Christ points to the opposite end of human existence, which stretches out an infinite distance above and below itself. This existence embraces, as the opposite pole to utter solitude, to the untouchability of rejected love, the possibility of contact with all other men through the medium of contact with the divine love itself, so that human existence can find its geometrical place, so to speak, inside God’s own being. […]
Only from this standpoint does it become clear now what is really meant in the Christian view by heaven. It is not to be understood as an everlasting place above the world or simply as an eternal metaphysical region. On the contrary, “heaven” and “the Ascension of Christ” are indivisibly connected; it is only this connection that makes clear the christological, personal, history-centered meaning of the Christian tidings of heaven. Let us look at it from another angle: heaven is not a place that, before Christ’s Ascension, was barred off by a positive, punitive decree of God’s, to be opened up one day in just as positive a way. On the contrary, the reality of heaven only comes into existence through the confluence of God and man. Heaven is to be defined as the contact of the being “man” with the being “God”; this confluence of God and man took place once and for all in Christ when he went beyond bios through death to new life. Heaven is accordingly that future of man and of mankind which the latter cannot give to itself, which is therefore closed to it so long as it waits for itself, and which was first and fundamentally opened up in the man whose field of existence was God and through whom God entered into the creature “man.” […]
We [have] described Resurrection and Ascension as the final confluence of the being “man” with the being “God,” a process that offers man the possibility of everlasting existence. We have tried to understand the two happenings as love’s being stronger than death and thus as the decisive “mutation” of man and cosmos, in which the frontier of bios is broken down and a new field of existence created. If this is all correct, then it means the beginning of “eschatology”, of the end of the world. With the crossing of the frontier of death, the future dimension of mankind is opened up and its future has in fact already begun. It thus also becomes evident how the individual’s hope of immortality and the possibility of immortality for mankind as a whole intertwine and meet in Christ, who may just as well be called the “center” as, properly understood, the “end” of history. […]
[This idea can be expressed in another way]. Modern thinking usually lets itself be guided by the idea that eternity is imprisoned, so to speak in its unchangeableness; God appears as the prisoner of his eternal plan conceived “before all ages”. “Being” and “becoming” do not mingle. Eternity is thus understood in a purely negative sense as timelessness, as the opposite to time, as something that cannot make its influence felt in time for the simple reason that it would thereby cease to be unchangeable and itself become temporal. But [in reality] eternity is not the very ancient, which existed before time began, but the entirely other, which is related to every passing age as its today and is really contemporary with it; it is not itself barred off into a “before” and “after”; it is much rather the power of the present in all time. Eternity does not stand by the side of time, quite unrelated to it; it is the creatively supporting power of all time, which encompasses passing time in its own present and thus gives it the ability to be. It is not timelessness but dominion over time. As the Today that is contemporary with all ages, it can also make its influence felt in any age.
The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, by virtue of which the eternal God and temporal man combine in one single person, is nothing else than the last concrete manifestation of God’s dominion overtime. At this point of Jesus’ human existence, God took hold of time and drew it into himself. His power over time stands embodied before us, as it were, in Christ. Christ is really, as St. John’s Gospel says, the “door” between God and man (Jn 10:9), the “mediator” (1 Tim 2:5), in whom the Eternal One has time. In Jesus we temporal beings can speak to the temporal one, our contemporary; but in him, who with us is time, we simultaneously make contact with the Eternal One, because with us Jesus is time, and with God he is eternity.
- Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 , 311-317.
- Do I mediate frequently on the reality of heaven? On the fact that my name is already written in God’s heart and my ‘place’ with Him reserved? On the fulfillment, happiness, peace, joy, healing, forgiveness, understanding, and completeness, that only He can give me? But have I also begun to realize that heaven is not just a future place or state that awaits me, but that through faith, through my relationship with Christ, I am already participating in, living – even if only in a partial way – in heaven?