Ascent and Return - Saint John's Seminary
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Ascent and Return

May 6, 2024

May 9th is one of those days when I’m very pleased to be a Catholic in Boston. The other, of course, is when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday and the Archbishop customarily absolves the practice of abstaining from meat. This year, May 9th is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, which commemorates our Lord’s glorious ascent “to the right hand of the Father.” Oddly, though this is a major feast day on the liturgical calendar, most dioceses in the U.S. observe it the following Sunday. That’s right, in most dioceses “Ascension Thursday” is not on Thursday. Go figure. Only those archdioceses and dioceses that fall within the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, Philadelphia, and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (i.e., Anglican-use Catholics), continue to observe Ascension Thursday on Ascension Thursday, 40 days after Easter.

The New Testament authors and Fathers of the Church placed great importance upon the fact that the resurrected Jesus now “is seated at the right hand of the Father” (cf. Mk 16:19; Acts 2:33; etc.). This is because Christ’s Ascension fully reveals his Lordship. Further, from “the right hand of the Father,” Christ intercedes for us and sends us the gift of his Spirit. In St. John’s Gospel, in particular, Jesus is explicit that he needs to depart in order to send the Holy Spirit upon his disciples (Jn 16:7). It is through his glorified humanity that Christ mediates the gift of his Spirit on all peoples. In other words, only when his human nature enjoys perfect Trinitarian communion does he bring others into this communion through the work of the Spirit. Through the mediation of his grace in the Church, Christ fulfills his promise to be with us “until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). And just as Christ is the head of the Church, so too does he send the Spirit to animate the Church as her soul (cf. Pope Leo XIII, Divinum illud munus 6). By the working of the Holy Spirit, and through the mediation of the sacraments, we become “partakers of Christ, [Heb 3:14] […] properly called Christs, […] made Christs, by receiving the emblem of the Holy Ghost” (St. Cyril, Catech. Myst. 3.1).

Lastly, the Ascension of Christ also fully reveals Christ’s Lordship as Judge over the living and the dead at his parouisa (return). Jesus’ life and teachings, his death and resurrection, and the grace which he bestows upon us through the Church, are all preparations for this Kingdom; a Kingdom which will only be fulfilled at his return. In this regard, all Christians are called to be eschatological Christians; that is, Christians who pray and long for Christ’s return. We are all called, with St. Paul, to pray “Marana tha” (1 Cor 16:22), which means “Our Lord, come,” or, as elsewhere in the New Testament, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).

Dr. Anthony Coleman

Dr. Coleman brings more than a decade of experience working in higher education as a teacher, administrator, and scholar. Having earned a B.A. in Theology at St. Anselm College, and an M.A. in Theology and Ph.D. in Systematic Theology (with a minor in Historical Theology) at Boston College, he has taught theology at St. Joseph's College of Maine, Anna Maria College (Worcester, MA), St. Gregory's University (Shawnee, OK), and has previously served as an Associate Program Director for St. Joseph's College of Maine and Director of the Albany Campus for St. Bernard's School of Theology & Ministry. He is the author of Lactantius the Theologian (2017) and editor of Leisure and Labor: The Liberal Arts in Catholic Higher Education (2020). He is the most blessed husband of AnneMarie and a father of four. A native of Braintree, MA, Dr. Coleman is excited to be moving back home, near family, and to serve an institution that was pivotal in his own spiritual and intellectual formation.

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