Lord Jesus ascended into heaven.
We might well wish that He had not. We might prefer that He had remained on earth, with us, so that we could see Him. We might think that God being visible on earth would make the Christian faith considerably easier to sustain.
But St. Thomas Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologica why we should, in fact, rejoice that Christ ascended into heaven–even though, for now, it is beyond our sight. St. Thomas gives a number of reasons. One of them is this: We rejoice in Christ’s Ascension because it directs our fervor toward the invisible Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, which Christ gives us from heaven, is, to quote St. Thomas, “love drawing us up to heavenly things.” The Holy Spirit is nothing other than “love drawing us up to heavenly things.”
In other words: God is; our religion revolves around; the meaning of life is: love drawing us up to heavenly things. I would say that this may be the key concept for our spiritual lives in AD 2014, fifty years after Vatican II.
On Pentecost Sunday, 1970, Pope Paul VI spoke to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square:
Pentecost confronts us with the truth, with the ultimate destiny of humanity… the Holy Spirit leads us to rise above all divisions and conflicts…to form humanity into a single family of the children of God, free and brotherly…It is the civilization of love…and we are all aware how much today the world still needs love and peace.
The first recorded use of the phrase “civilization of love” as a summation for the mandate of Vatican II. Pope St. John Paul II went on to use this phrase over and over again, in unison with his own phrase, “culture of life.” As the saint put it in his encyclical on the Gospel of Life:
I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope…a new culture of human life, for the building up of an authentic civilization of love.
Fifty years after the invisible Holy Spirit gave us the gift of the second Vatican Council, let’s make this consummate phrase of the Council our own: civilization of love.
Two important points about this phrase, if I might:
1. There can be no civilization of love without an open door between heaven and earth. Jesus Christ is the open door. Our lives; our vocations; the drama of our trying to live a good life, bravely ready to face challenges for the sake of real love: All of it proceeds from the Sacred Heart of Christ and from nowhere else.
The word ‘love’ has become like a dinghy dishrag in this world. The most selfish menaces, the most dishonest rogues give hugs and talk about ‘love,’ while indulging the basest cravings and participating in the most appalling injustices.
There is one genuine measure of love, only one. Every other definition is a fraud and counterfeit. Any other definition is, when you get down to it, a sacrilege. The only true love is the selfless love of the Sacred Heart of Christ, pierced and wounded for our selfishness, but renewed again and beating in the unimaginably radiant throne room of heaven.
I must ask myself this question so often that it becomes habitual: Is what I am about to do or neglect to do a genuine act of love? To answer this question honestly, I have to kneel down, close my eyes, and beg Jesus to show me the answer, in His pure Heart. In other words: only heaven can teach us what love is, and what it isn’t. The visible world does not have the answer to that question. Heavenly love is the only real love.
But, by the same token, point #2: Christ builds the civilization of love by the gentlest, quietest, most human, simplest, homiest acts imaginable. Not by earthquakes. Not by thunder and tumult. The building of the civilization of love means a Mighty Crusade! made up of little daily acts of kindness that no one notices.
Heavenly love extends beyond the limits of any ideas I have in my head. Heavenly love means the total elimination of “us” and “them.” It greets the human being in front of me with this attitude, and no other: This beautiful person has come to offer me the gift of salvation, because the infallible oracle of the Almighty has unequivocally told me: The only way to heaven is to love the person in front of my face. My Savior was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified, and died in indescribably agony for this person right in front of me.
Fifty years after Vatican II. I think we can say that no human mind, in 1964, could have conceived just how desperately the world of 2014 would need the Church’s message about building the civilization of love. No one could have imagined how utterly empty the sky above the human race could become, how the spirit of modern man could grow so pathetically and crushingly hopeless, how the general intercourse of mankind could become the arid, love-less desert it has become.
But the Lord knew what we would need. He knew we would need this animating idea, this idea worth living for and dying for: He has chosen us to give our lives to build the civilization of love. The darkness that has enveloped so many souls cannot outlast the heavenly love that God has chosen us to share. Let’s share the heavenly love of Christ without fear.