A Longing to See Him Again
Blessed John Henry Newman wrote somewhere that the Ascension of the Lord is “at once a source of sorrow, because it involves His absence; and of joy, because it involves His presence.” For Our Blessed Lady and the Apostles, standing on the Mount of Olives with their eyes riveted to the heavens, the Ascension was the last glimpse of the Face of Christ on earth. The disappearance of the beloved Face of Christ leaves in the heart of the Church a longing to see Him again, a burning desire for His return.
I Seek Thy Face
This is the grace offered us in Exaudi, Domine, today’s incomparable Introit: “Listen to my voice, Lord, when I cry to Thee, alleluia. True to my heart’s promise I have eyes only for Thy Face; I seek Thy Face, O Lord! Turn not Thy Face away from me, alleluia, alleluia” (Psalm 26: 7-9). The desire to contemplate the Face of Christ becomes a persistent longing; this is the experience of all the saints. The vitality of one’s interior life can be measured by the intensity of one’s desire to see the Face of Christ or, at least, by the desire of an intense desire to see the Face of Christ.
The Holy Ghost
There is a vital connection between the Holy Ghost and the Face of the Word made flesh, and this, first of all, because the Face of the Word, the Human Face of God, was fashioned by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Then, one must recall the promise of Our Lord before His Passion: “He who is to befriend you, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send on my account, will in His turn make everything plain, and recall to your minds everything I have said you” (John 14:26). “It will be for Him, the truth-giving Spirit, when He comes, to guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Contemplation of the Holy Face of Jesus is the means by which the Holy Ghost teaches us all that we need to know in order to become saints. There is nothing written in the Gospels that one cannot read on the Face of Jesus. The Holy Ghost so illumines the Sacred Scriptures for us that we begin, with the eyes of faith, to perceive the Face of the Bridegroom shining through the text. “Now,” says the Bride of the Canticle, “He is looking in through each window in turn, peering through every chink” (Canticle 2:9).
The Memory of the Church
Since His Ascension from the Mount of Olives, the Holy Face of Jesus fills the vision of the Church. The Holy Ghost brings to our remembrance all that Our Lord said by compelling us ceaselessly to seek His Face. This is why the Church sings on this Sunday After the Ascension: “Listen to my voice, Lord, when I cry to Thee, alleluia. True to my heart’s promise I have eyes only for Thy Face; I seek Thy Face, O Lord! Turn not Thy Face away from me, alleluia, alleluia” (Psalm 26: 7-9).
Today’s Holy Gospel, from the 15th chapter of Saint John, takes place in the Cenacle. The place of (1) the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and of the Priesthood is the very place wherein (2) Mary’s Motherhood of the Church begins to unfold in a ceaseless prayer. At Pentecost, the same Cenacle becomes the place of (3) the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. These three mysteries are telescoped into one in every celebration of Holy Mass. Today, after two thousand years, the Cenacle remains the Church’s home. The Church lives out of the Cenacle — Ecclesia de Eucharistia — and returns to the Cenacle to be renewed in the Holy Ghost through the intercession of Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces.
The Eucharistic Face of Christ
In the Cenacle, together with Our Blessed Lady and the Apostles, one contemplates the Eucharistic Face of Christ. The commandment of the Lord on the night before He suffered, “Do this for a commemoration of me” (Luke 22:19), was certainly obeyed by the Apostles during the days that separated the Ascension of the Lord from Pentecost. The Mother of the Eucharist was there. The very Face that disappeared into the heavens over the Mount of Olives on the day of the Ascension re-appears in every Holy Mass, hidden, and yet shining, through the sacramental veils.
The Priestly Prayer
The Priestly Prayer of Christ to the Father, first uttered in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered, is wondrously actualized in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is Christ, the Eternal High Priest, who stands at the altar with His Face turned toward the Father and His pierced Heart open for all eternity, that out of it we may receive the life-giving torrent that is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. In some way, the final chapters of Saint John’s Gospel are a sustained contemplation of the Face of Jesus turned toward us, and lifted to the Father.
Contemplate the Face of Jesus, portrayed in the Fourth Gospel: the Holy Ghost will surely draw you into His filial and priestly prayer to the Father. This is, I think, the reason for taking today’s Communion Antiphon from Our Lord’s Priestly Prayer given in the 17th Chapter of Saint John:
Father, while I was with them, I kept them whom Thou gavest me, alleluia; but now I come to Thee: I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from evil, alleluia. (John 17:12, 13, 15)
One who receives the Body and Blood of Christ, receives the very prayer of Christ into his soul. The grace of every Holy Communion is that of Christ praying to His Father in us and for us.
As the Spirit of the Lord Enables Us
Through the adorable mystery of the Eucharist, the Face we so long to contemplate is set before our eyes and burned into our souls. “It is given to us, all alike, to catch the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, with faces unveiled; and so we become transfigured into the same likeness, borrowing glory from that glory, as the Spirit of the Lord enables us” (2 Corinthians 3:18).