A Feast in Europe
In all of Europe today is the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, co–patrons of Europe with Saint Benedict, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Birgitta of Sweden, and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
The Ascension of the Lord
The Gospel given us today is Saint Mark’s account of the Ascension of the Lord (Mk 16:15–20). This particular pericope is constructed like a triptych. The central panel is the radiant image of the ascended Lord Jesus, the King of Glory, seated at the right hand of the Father. “So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19).
O Jesus, our redemption,
our love, and our desire,
God, Creator of all things,
become Man in the fullness of time.
What tender love, what pity
compelled you to bear our crimes,
to suffer a cruel death
that we, from death, might be saved?
You descended into death’s dark cavern,
and from it, brought forth captives free;
Your triumph won, you take your place,
you, the Victor, at the Father’s right.
It was a tender love, a costly compassion
that pressed you our sorrows to bear;
granting pardon, you raised us up
to fill us full with the splendour of your face.
You are already the joy of all our days,
who in eternity will be our prize;
let all our glory be in you,
forever, and always, and in the age to come.
(Iesu nostra redemptio, Hymn at Vespers of the Ascension)
The Things That Are Above
It is in the light of the glorious mystery of the Ascension, recapitulating the whole work of redemption, that Saint Paul writes: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1–3). This, it seems to me, is the message that contemporary Europe and the whole Western world need to hear.
Go Into the World
The first panel in Saint Mark’s triptych depicts Our Lord’s command to “go into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). Baptism is the necessary response to the prevenient gift of faith. Those who, having heard the preaching of the Gospel, refuse to put their belief in Christ, will be condemned by their own hardness of heart. The preaching of the Gospel is made compelling by the signs that accompany it. “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mk 16:17–18).
The third panel of the Gospel triptych shows the Church’s obedience to the command of the Lord. Saints Cyril and Methodius are, in fact, examples of the last verse of the Gospel: “And they went forth and preached every where, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen” (Mk 16:19–20). Saint Mark’s phrase, “and the Lord worked with them,” corresponds to Saint Matthew’s expression of the same mystery: “Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).
The Soul of the Apostolate
The preaching of the Gospel is sustained by the contemplation of the risen and ascended Christ hidden for our sake in the sacred mysteries until His return in glory. Those who seek His Face and His Heart hidden in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist will not be disappointed in their hope. The central panel of today’s Gospel reveals what Dom Chautard called “the soul of the apostolate.” Without seeking the Face of Christ and exposing ourselves to the flames that emanate from His Sacred Heart, it is impossible to hear the commands of the Lord, and impossible to carry them out.