Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave this morning during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. He took up again the cycle of catechesis dedicated to the Creed and the Year of Faith.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning
In the Creed we find the affirmation that Jesus “ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” Jesus’ earthly life culminated with the event of the Ascension, namely, when He passed from this world to the Father and was raised to his right hand. What is the meaning of this event? What are its consequences for our life? What does it mean to contemplate Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father? We will let ourselves be guided on this by the evangelist Luke.
We will start from the moment in which Jesus decided to undertake his last pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Saint Luke notes: “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). While he “ascends” to the Holy City, where his “exodus” from this life will be accomplished, Jesus already sees the goal, Heaven, but he knows well that the way that will take him to the glory of the Father passes through the Cross, through obedience to the divine plan of love for humanity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven” (n. 662). In our Christian life, we must also have very clear that to enter into the glory of God exacts daily fidelity to His will, even when it requires sacrifice, when it requires at times that we change our plans. Jesus’ Ascension took place concretely on the Mount of Olives, close to the place where he withdrew in prayer before the Passion to remain in profound union with the Father: once again we see that prayer gives us the grace to live faithful to God’s plan.
At the end of his Gospel, Saint Luke recounts the event of the Ascension in a very synthetic way. Jesus leads his disciples “out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. They worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:50-53). So says Saint Luke. I would like to note two elements of the account. First of all, during the Ascension, Jesus carries out the priestly gesture of blessing and the disciples certainly express their faith with their prostration, kneeling and bowing their head. This is an important first point: Jesus is the one and eternal Priest who, with his Passion, went through death and the sepulcher and rose and ascended to Heaven; he is beside God the Father, where he intercedes forever in our favor (cf. Hebrews 9:24). As Saint John states in his First Letter, He is our advocate: how beautiful it is to hear this. When one is called by a judge or is called to trial, the first thing he does is look for an advocate to defend him. We have One who always defends us. He defends us from the insidiousness of the Devil, He defends us from ourselves, from our sins! Dear brothers and sisters, we have this advocate: we must not be afraid to go to Him to as for forgiveness, to ask for His blessing, to ask Him for mercy. He always forgives us, He is our advocate: He always defends us. Do not forget this!
Hence Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven makes us know this very consoling reality for our journey: in Christ, true God and true man, our humanity has been carried to God; He opened the way for us; He is as the head of a roped party when climbing a mountain, who arrives at the summit and attracts us to himself, leading us to God. If we entrust our life to Him, if we let ourselves be guided by Him, we are certain of being in safe hands, in the hands of our Savior, in the hands of our advocate.
A second element: Saint Luke says that the Apostles, after seeing Jesus go up to Heaven, returned to Jerusalem “with great joy.” This seems somewhat strange to us. In general, when we are separated from our relatives, our friends, for a definitive departure and above all because of death, there is a natural sadness in us, because we will no longer see their face, we will no longer hear their voice, we will no longer be able to enjoy their affection, their presence. Instead, the evangelist stresses the profound joy of the Apostles. But how is this possible? Precisely because, with the look of faith, they understood that, although removed from their eyes, Jesus always stays with them, He does not abandon them and, in the glory of the Father, He sustains them, guides them and intercedes for them.
Saint Luke recounts the event of the Ascension also at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, to underscore that this event is as the ring that fastens and links Jesus’ earthly life to that of the Church. Here Saint Luke also refers to the cloud which took Jesus out of the sight of the disciples, who remained gazing at Christ who ascended to the Father (cf. Acts 1:9-10). Then two men stood by them in white robes, who invited them not to remain standing looking into heaven, but to nourish their life and there witness of the certainty that Jesus will return in the same way as they saw him go into heaven (cf. Acts 1:10-11). It is, in fact, the invitation to begin from the contemplation of the Lordship of Christ, to have from Him the strength to bring the Gospel and witness to it in everyday life: to contemplate and to act, to pray and to work, Saint Benedict teaches, both are necessary in our life of Christians.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Ascension does not indicate Jesus’ absence, but it tells us that He is alive and in our midst in a new way; He is no longer in a specific place of the world as he was before the Ascension; now He is in the dominion of God, present in all space and time, close to each one of us. We are never alone in our life: the crucified and risen Lord guides us; with us there are so many brothers and sisters that in silence and hiddenness, in their family and working life, in their problems and difficulties, in their joys and hopes, live the faith daily and bring to the world the dominion of the love of God, in Christ Jesus risen, ascended to Heaven, an advocate for us. Thank you.
[Translation by ZENIT]
Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Creed during this Year of Faith, we now consider the article which deals with Christ’s Ascension: "He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father". Saint Luke invites us to contemplate the mystery of the Ascension in the light of the Lord’s entire life, and particularly his decision to "ascend" to Jerusalem to embrace his saving passion and death in obedience to the Father’s will (cf. Lk 9:51). Two aspects of Luke’s account are significant. First, before returning to the glory of the Father, the risen Jesus blesses his disciples (Lk 24:50). Jesus thus appears as our eternal Priest. True God and true man, he now for ever intercedes for us before the Father. Second, Luke tells us that the Apostles returned to Jerusalem "with great joy" (Lk 24:51). They realize that the risen Lord, though no longer physically present, will always be with them, guiding the life of the Church until he returns in glory. As we contemplate the mystery of the Ascension, may we too bear joyful witness to the Lord’s resurrection, his loving presence in our midst, and the triumph of his Kingdom of life, holiness and love.
Holy Father (in Italian):
I offer a cordial welcome to the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and I assure them of my prayers for their episcopal ministry. I also greet the priests of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.
© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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To Italian-speaking pilgrims, the Pope said:
I greet with affection the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, the diocesan pilgrimages led by the respective Bishops: I am thinking especially of the community of Triveneto, who have accompanied their Pastors on their ad Limina Apostolorum visit. I greet the numerous parishes, in particular that of the Good Shepherd of Caserta and of Santa Maria Assunta in Frosinone.
I greet the Josephine Fathers of Murialdo, the Religious of the Order of the Mother of God, who are observing the 75th anniversary of the canonization of their founder Saint Giovanni Leonardi, and the priests of the diocese of Verona, so dear to us, Latin Americans, because of their missionary work. I hope that for everyone this paschal time is a profound invitation to renew their existence putting it at the service of the Gospel.
The presence of the Archbishop of Sassari, in Sardinia was foreseen for today, as well as the workers of the "E.ON" society. The flight, however, was delayed for three hours and they were unable to come. But we have them present in our hearts.
Finally, I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. May the Risen Lord fill with his love the heart of each one of you, dear young people, of you, students, so numerous today, so that you will be ready to follow him with enthusiasm; may He sustain you, dear sick, so that you will be able to accept with serenity the weight of suffering; may He guide you, dear newlyweds, so that your family will grow in holiness, following the model of the Holy Family.
I learned with sadness of the violent earthquake that struck the populations of Iran and Pakistan, bringing death, suffering, and destruction. I raise a prayer to God for the victims and for all those who are in sorrow and I wish to express my closeness to the Iranian and Pakistani people.
[Translation by ZENIT]