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Chapter 58

The Ascension of Love

 

He asked me if I loved Him.
I wept, for you know, Father,
whom I have loved more than Jesus.
I have loved myself,
and oftentimes creatures and pleasures.
What could I answer to Jesus?
I wept for a long time, and that was my reply.
It is Jesus alone whom I should love,
and I have never loved Him as I should.
—St. Gemma Galgani

 

 

As we journey in the spiritual life, our relationship with God passes through three levels of charity as can be seen in the lives of the Apostles.  Our love for God becomes more spiritual, supernatural and divine over time.  “I have come to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49)

After their spiritual conversion from a life of self-centeredness to one of following Jesus Christ, the Apostles loved Our Lord with divine charity to some degree, but even more so, just humanly—as a man—their spiritual teacher, leader and friend.  They knew beforehand that God would send the Messiah, but it took a while for them to firmly believe and understand that God sent Himself through Christ our Lord, true God and true Man.  “We have found the Messiah, which interpreted means, the Christ.” (John 1:41)  At the beginning, the disciples loved His humanity more than His divinity, and consequently, their love for Christ was still very human or natural.  They felt His loving presence as in the company of a friend.  They heard His words of wisdom which brought them sensible consolation.  They saw His miracles and were amazed, as most anyone would be, and yet were not convinced of His Divinity till later.  The strength of their love for God was based, in large part, on feelings and emotions, not on supernatural charity as it later would be.  This is why St. Peter could say, “I will lay down my life for you,” and just a little while later declare, “I do not know the man.” (John 13:37, Matt. 26:72)  As long as they had His physical visible presence with them, their love for God would not be very stable, supernatural or spiritual.  For this reason, Christ would say to them at the Last Supper, “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.” (John 16:7)

When Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins, the Apostles lost His physical sensible presence.  They were in a “dark night,” as if inside the tomb of Christ.  Their feelings and emotions were sad, their senses were not satisfied, but their souls were consoled by the divine presence still growing within them.  A secret silent peace and delicate supernatural food, like manna from heaven, began to flow into their souls and fill that emptiness left from senses bereft.  “Can the children of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then they shall fast (from attachment to created things).” (Matt. 9:15)  After the Ascension of Christ, this prophecy comes to be fulfilled fully in the lives of the Apostles.

Then, when the risen Lord Jesus appeared to them their joy returned, only this time more spiritual and divine.  For forty days, meaning a long time, the Apostles and other disciples enjoyed His resurrected presence.  Half-way between the purely spiritual and the simply physical, His resurrected presence was “sacramental.”  On the road to Emmaus He would walk and talk with them just like any other man, but then disappear “in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35)  He wanted to lead them from “the life of the senses” to “the life of the spirit,” from the exterior to the interior, from the active to the contemplative.  They were to experience His presence in the sacraments and in the gift of infused contemplation.  Their love for God became a spiritual fire that gradually consumed every other desire.  “Was not our heart burning within us as he was speaking to us on the way, and opening up to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)

Then came the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven.  Once again they lost what they had of His tangible sensible presence, only this time completely.  This was another “dark night,” more deep and complete than the former, for the Apostles dwelling in the Upper Room in Jerusalem.  Their nine days of novena in prayer and fasting left them spiritually suspended in air between earth and heaven.  His sensible presence had been taken away fully, but the Holy Spirit had not yet fully come to make them spiritually one with the Son on a higher level.  Imagine losing your best friend, as it seemed to them, who happened to be the most warm and loving Person in all of history—indeed, in all of eternity—being the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity Incarnate.  “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom (His sensible presence) shall be taken away from them; then, in those days, they shall fast (not only from food, but from all attachment to created things).” (Luke 5:34-35)  Although the Gospel does not mention it, this period of time for the Apostles was very painful and crucifying.  They needed to be freed from their old life completely, stripped of their selfish attachments thoroughly, crucified to their ego and pride—their “old man”—totally, before they could receive the “New Man” (Christ, the Son of God) and the new “divine wine” (the Holy Spirit) fully.  “No one pours new wine into old wineskins.  Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins will be lost.  Rather, new wine is poured into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)

When the day of Pentecost came,…there appeared to them divided tongues, as it were of fire, resting on each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:1,3-4)  They were made one with the Son of God in the Living Flame of Love.  Jesus Christ became the Life of their life and the Love of their heart in the transforming Fire of Pentecost.  No longer did they love Him for some human reason or merely for the sake of sensible consolation, but simply and purely for His own sake, with supernatural charity and divine love.  Now, they were ready to lay down their life for Him, and they did, except for St. John, the “beloved disciple,” because he had already offered his life for Christ, mystically or spiritually, at the foot of the cross.

 

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