Father Robert Barron, writing recently on the Ascension of Christ, noted that the feast is difficult for contemporary, largely Greek-influenced, minds to grasp:

The key to understanding both the meaning and significance of this feast is a recovery of the Jewish sense of heaven and earth . . . Jesus’s great prayer, which is constantly on the lips of Christians, is distinctively Jewish in inspiration: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Notice please that this is decidedly not a prayer that we might escape from the earth, but rather that earth and heaven might come together.

I have been pondering this notion a great deal, lately, as my lectio divina leads me again and again to feed on the rich and mysterious first lines of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

These are not mere pretty words. This is not simply a poetic idea, but rather a powerful declaration of what God is to us and what we are to God. The Word, the Logos is nothing less than the divinity whose image”one might call it a divine spark”is found in every human breast. This spark is what renders us capable of co-creation in the procreation of ever-new humanity. It is what allows the Creator to be made manifest in art, in music, in design and philosophy, as we consent to give human assistance to the divine light. It is what we declare back to God, in one of the first antiphons of Lauds, “In your light, we see light itself.”

The light is so penetrating, in fact, that we are more at one with it than we know. Near the end of John’s Gospel, Christ tells us, “ . . . you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” We may glimpse this understanding for a fleeting instant, but it remains terribly easy to forget.

It is this onenes Father Barron describes when he writes of the “interacting and interpenetrating fields of force” that are heaven and earth, constantly commingling, and within the church embodying a true encounter between bridegroom and bride. That is considered archaic language, I know ” Flannery O’ Connor called it “a metaphor that can be dispensed with” ” but the brilliant Ms. O’ Connor was uncharacteristically off the mark in her observation to Cecil Dawkins, both in her dismissiveness and in calling what is a real and daily action nothing but metaphor.

If we could reclaim the metaphor of the bride and groom we might be better able to teach the very dogmas that O’ Connor championed so passionately, and which are every day a little less comprehensible to most Christians. For that matter, if we were less prudish about acknowledging the interplay between heaven and earth as lovemaking, our over-saturated and exhausted culture of hook-ups and sterile encounters might become reopened to the true meaning of the sex act and to a re-appreciation of its light-from-light power.

If Heaven and Earth are in constant flux, then the Ascension becomes less incomprehensible and so, too, the dogmas of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. In fact, they are even more fully understood in the light of yet another dimension of the divine spark within humanity: science .

It was a class in Anatomy and Physiology, and the lesson on microchimerism, that concretely illustrated for me those two dogmas. Learning that every child leaves within his mother a microscopic bit of himself”and that it remains within her forever”the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was instantly illuminated.

Mary, then, was indeed a tabernacle for the divinity”not for a limited time, but for all of her life. Thus the Immaculate Conception made and makes perfect sense: God, who is all-good is also completely pure; the vessel in which he resides, then, must also be pure, or it would not be able to sustain all of that light.

And this relates directly to the Assumption of Mary as well. In the psalms we read “you will not suffer your beloved to undergo corruption.” Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption, but ascended into heaven; it follows that his mother’s body, which contained a cellular component of that divinity”and a particle of God is God, entire”would not be permitted to undergo corruption, as well.

It could not be otherwise. The God particle, commingled with humanity, necessarily preserves humanity, and calls it to himself. This is incarnational. It is eucharistic, from the beginning. It is our life, conceived in light.

Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress . Her previous articles for “On the Square” can be found here .

RESOURCES

Father Robert Barron, Ascension, Plato and the Bible

Wikipedia entry on Microchimerism

Articles by Elizabeth Scalia

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