A song by Garth Brooks, “Standing Outside the Fire”, always brings me to tears because it triggers my own yearning for the fire of God hidden deep in my soul. It is easy to lose touch with this longing, focusing on the business of each day as I function efficiently, approved of by society. On the other hand, whenever someone surrenders to the power of the fire, the ensuing process of transformation usually looks messy.
In a few days the Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Forty days after his Resurrection, Christ ascended into heaven. His Ascension marked the end of his earthly ministry. Having conquered sin and death, Jesus ascended to receive the glory due him [Philippians 2:8-11], mediate on our behalf [Hebrews 9:24], send the Holy Spirit promised at the Last Supper [John 16:7], and prepare a place for us in eternity [John 14:2]. Immediately following the Ascension, an angel informs the disciples that Christ’s Second Coming will occur in the same way. According to the Catechism , “Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority.” Our Lord’s Ascension bridges his Incarnation in humility with his coming again at the end of time as King and Supreme Judge of the universe.
Since his Ascension, Christ’s glorified body has sat at the right hand of the Father. The divinization of Christ in his incarnate body has profound implications for us. Jesus is the Exemplar, par excellence, of how we should live and what we ought to do. He also reveals our destiny, if we persevere in love…
Some people become or stay Catholics because they agree that the Church has the authority to teach and give their assent to that teaching. Others become or stay Catholics because they find her position on certain topics compatible with their own. The former is like a house built on rock, the latter is like a house built on sand. Like the houses in Our Lord’s parable, the one built on sand faces ruin.
Why do I say this? Because the Church is simultaneously gifted with Our Lord’s authority (Luke 10:16) and protected from teaching error (Matthew 16:18. Matthew 28:19-20) on one hand and filled with sinful people who need salvation on the other. So when the Church teaches and we dislike the teaching, or if we get scandalized by the bad behavior of some churchmen, the only thing that will keep us on the right path is faith that God protects His Church. If we treat our affiliation with the Church like a political affiliation, what will we do when the Church goes in a direction we don’t like?