One day, during her kindergarten class, a nun asked those who wanted to go to heaven to raise their hands. They all raised their hands, except for a little girl.
The nun asked the little girl who did not raise her hand why she did not want to go to heaven. The girl replied: "Sister, I do not want to go heaven because when my mom dropped me off at school this morning, she said to stay put after school so she can pick me up."
What comes to our minds when we hear the priest say, "Lift up your hearts," and we respond "We lift them up to the Lord"? Do we make a connection between the Ascension of Christ and "lift up your hearts"?
When I was a Protestant, I marvelled at how anybody could be a Catholic, with the lack of creativity at a Catholic worship. Everything is the same – as it was in the beginning, now and ever shall be. I had to memorize about 250 questions and answers for Baptism and first Holy Communion.
Obviously, Canadian Catholics do not do this. One may ask: Is a tradition worth keeping – the memorization of exact responses – or do we need creativity? Why do we say "lift up your hearts" and why do we repeat it at every Mass?
The epistle to the Colossians offers clues to the meaning of "lift up your hearts": "Since, therefore, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" (3.1).
First, "lift up your hearts" recalls the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ concludes his earthly mission, while ushering in for human beings their earthly mission – the mission of the redeemed sons and daughters of God as a resurrected people. What does it mean to have the mission of the resurrection?
This is what Paul says to that effect: "Since, therefore, you have been raised with Christ (in Baptism), . . . put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed, which amount to idolatry" (Colossians 3.1, 5).
To be a resurrected people is to be a transformed people – the transformation of bad habits and character.
The feast of the Ascension will be celebrated on May 20 this year.
Second, "lift up your hearts" challenges Christians to seek heaven as their final destination: "Seek the things that are above, where Christ is." When the "Word" became flesh at Christmas (John 1.14), humanity was taken up into the life of God – the divine and the human are now inseparable.
The authentic yearning of the human soul must be after God. As St. Augustine of Hippo put it, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."
"Lift up your hearts" redirects the human heart back to its source and completion. Where Christ is, there should the human heart be – "above . . . where Christ is seated at the right hand of God."
Third, "lift up your hearts" reminds us of the reward of fidelity to God. To be seated "at the right hand of God" is a reward for a job well done; in the case of Christ, the accomplishment of human salvation.
"Therefore, God has highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2.9-11).
Ascension begins Christ's heavenly mission – intercession or mediation. If Christ came, died and rose to life for human justification and salvation, his ascension inaugurates his reward for what he suffered and his role as mediator before God on our behalf.
With the Ascension comes the human struggle for heaven. The anticipation of the beatific vision or union with God propels the human person into acts of charity, so as to merit a place at God's right hand.
Even while we remain residents of earth, we are already the citizens of heaven because every Eucharistic celebration offers a foretaste of the banquet of heaven. It is actually Jesus Christ, in the priest, who reminds us to "lift up your hearts." Every Eucharist makes sacramentally present, what we hope for in the future – union with God.
An area of creativity opened up to a Christian is a life of virtue. The Eucharist, in which each one of us presides and celebrates, is our life – a life of thanksgiving to God for the gift of salvation. After the Eucharist in the Church comes the eucharist of our lives. Both "eucharists" are linked: our lives are both evangelization and thanksgiving.
Creativity comes in multiple forms because we are involved in diverse occupations. The different milieus of our jobs are areas of creativity: How do we make manifest, in our families and places of work, the love of Jesus?
Tradition is necessary because we know exactly what we believe; just as each country has one, and not multiple, constitutions. When we know what we believe, through tradition, then we know how to be creative; otherwise, we place the cart before the horse.
At the next Mass you attend, visualize yourself in heaven, with Christ the Priest presiding over the heavenly banquet, with myriads of angels in the assembly and your fellow parishioners congregating for the celebration.
This is necessary because we respond "we have lifted them up to the Lord." In other words, each Eucharist reminds us of our communion and common aspiration for heaven. Christ does not wish that anyone be left behind.
Spiritan Father Ayodele Ayeni is a sessional lecturer at Newman Theological College and pastor of Mary Help of Christians (Chinese) Parish in Edmonton.