Don Divo Barsotti: The Mystery of our Ascension

Meditation held in 1956

Ascension is a very important mystery in the spiritual life of the Christian, because it is the Feast that says the end of our own life and therefore commands our entire journey in some way. Our spiritual life is also an ascension, a journey not so much through the desert, not so much an ascension to Sinai, but an ascension into Heaven, with Jesus. The end of our journey is no longer a land beyond the Jordan, and it is no longer the top of Sinai, it is the Very Breast of the Father, it is Heaven, where God manifests himself, where we will live in God’s vision. Moses ascends to Sinai until he speak face to face with God, like a friend who is speaking to another friend, says the Book of Exodus. But to meet with God must pass beyond the cloud, so as to make itself invisible and hidden in the eyes of the people. Moses goes beyond the cloud, and Jesus does the same. Our ascension to God matters our hiding place, our failure in the light. The more man rises to God the more he hides in humility. Jesus is present among us, the Ascension did not alienate him. I will be with you until the consumption of the ages. Jesus is with us, and not only as God, but also as a Man. His humanity resurrected from death is with us. He lives with man, yet, living with man, and living with man in the glory that belongs to him as the Only-Begotten Son, He remains hidden from every look: his glorious Ascension takes him out of our sight. To the extent that this Humanity becomes a participant in the divine life, in the properties of the Divinity itself, this Humanity hides, becomes invisible. It is not that He does not live, that he does not shy away from us so as not to live with us, no, He lives and is indeed the life of the world. He comes and dwells among men, yet no one discovers him, no one could see him, listen: in what silence He lives! In what silence he remains hidden!

Thus the life of the soul: the more the soul ascends, to the extent that it ascends enters the cloud; to the extent that the soul ascends towards God is subtracted from the sensitive experience; to the extent that the soul enters into communion with God, to the same extent it almost vanishes in the eyes of men. The more a soul is holy, the less one can talk about it; of the greatest Saints can be said very little. Very little can be said of the Virgin Mary herself, the Saint of Saints; but little can also be said of St John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus. They live constantly in the light of God, and the light of God sings them and hides them. The divine Presence subtracts these souls from every trade with things: they no longer live on the surface, but have sunk into the Abyss. Like the sea: it shakes to the surface, but deep down it remains motionless. And the soul as well.

The more the soul lives in God, the more one gathers, makes one, and the more the multiplicity of acts also becomes less, and there is less every succession of time in tasks, missions, activities, the more the multiplicity of relationships is reduced: the soul lives no more than a single act, adoration and love. It is the unity and simplicity of this life, every day greater, that hides us in the eyes of men, that makes our life insignificant to human eyes, but full of God in the intimate. And then the commitment of our lives is a commitment to simplification, to unity. The soul must increasingly gather in God and in him to dwell. And it is precisely the more it sinks into God that the soul acquires power of love in order to embrace all things without leaving from the center. When we think that our love for men should keep us in a continuous relationship with them, we basically do not understand how we can effectively love men only if we enter into God, if we tend to sink into God. We believe that love for others is about fatigue in a multiple activity, from doing a mountain of things, so that we no longer even have time to pray: do this, do that, always have thousands of people in mind. The soul, on the other hand, acts in fact in the hearts of men to the extent that it sinks into God.

The capacity and effectiveness of love is all the greater in man the more man gathers in God. We must not therefore think that the loneliness of the contemplative is a loneliness that takes man away from the community: instead it makes him able to act more within the community, because it enters the heart of the community. What Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus said is also theologically correct: she who is contemplative feels that she is the heart of the Church. The apostles may be the hands, but the heart is the soul sunk in God, that is, that it seems to no longer have relations with men and in fact acts in them because God himself lives in her.

In man only grace acts, only the action of God is effective, which is exercised not from outside, but from the intimate; it does not transform us, it does not shape us from the outside, but from the underwear. And so is the Saint. The more the Saint has sunk into God, the more he manages to exercise an activity on all that the Church. Today we can say that the life, the example, the teaching of St Francis Xavier is less effective than today the teaching of a Saint John of the Cross, of a man who during his life has tried to escape from every human task in order to live with God. Practically, what does the life of St. Francis Xavier say today? It is read willingly as a novel, and reading it we can feel pushed to an apostolic zeal, but deep down we feel that his life, with so many adventures, is difficult to live, and remains for us a beautiful novel. Imagination, imagination, a certain spirit of adventure are interested … yes, but our soul is interested, is it linked as to the reading of the works of St. John of the Cross, as the example of his life? And this is also true of a Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus and a St. John Bosco.

These souls, as they settle in God and simplify and unify their lives in a search for God, in an ascension of the soul that leads them to God, hide in the eyes of men, evade human tasks, but act more effectively in the heart of the world. This is the path of the soul, if it is a journey that hides us because it makes us enter into the light, into a light that envelops us, the divine light that is truly inaccessible to man and that is truly darkness for carnal eyes. Ascending to God we hide, but we do not shy away, on the contrary, as Jesus becomes the principle and heart of the world, the principle of life, the source of effectiveness, renewal and transformation of men. Live in the Presence of God! Living in this light that not only hides the Lord, but also hides the soul that remains in Him. That is our task.

This does not mean that we must not engage also in certain activities that can make it easier, indeed possible, for us to dwell in the light of the Lord. It is certain that a soul, I do not say dissipated but a little dispersed, as we all are, needs various exercises and various activities so that his life remains orderly to God and is an ascension to the Lord. We must therefore live a search for God that establishes us in Him, that in him unifies our powers, simplifying our lives in such a way that we do not do or no longer think anything that does not have a relationship with Him, so that our whole life is placed at the service of God, and so that no activity multiplies our interests , but rather unifies and smplifies all life, and makes it a journey towards God, a path of ascension so that the soul escapes the multiplicity and succession of acts to be reduced only to the contemplation of God, to the vision of God, to an act of pure and total adherence to the Lord. This is how the soul will live the mystery of its ascension, of an ascension that is all the more real the more it takes us away from dispersion, to multiplicity, the more it apparently takes us away from men the more it hides us in the Bosom of God.

Fuller life is the most hidden life; the fullest life is the deepest life, the life that in the depths of immense peace knows no succession and lives its adherence to God. We live, we try to live the Ascension of the Lord by imposing ourselves to eliminate what is not needed in our lives, which is not an immediate response, which escapes this commitment of the soul to seek God and respond to him, and follows Him and rises to him. Delete and hide.

Thus, the end of Christian life is always hermit life. Not so much so that in reality someone can be a hermit, not in this sense, but in the sense that it is always imposed as ideal this pure hiding in infinite light, this pure losing of the soul in the light of God. This is our term, because this was the term of Jesus who, although dwelling among men, is completely invisible today; despite being the life of the world, it is hidden and silent. Everyone seems to live more than He does; all appear, but He is hidden; yet he lives among us as the life of the world, as the heart of reality. The mystery of our ascension is a participation in the Mystery of the Ascension of Jesus. It does not matter to us just to hide: the more we ascend, the more we enter the cloud, hide in the eyes of men, become invisible as Jesus, present among us yet invisible.

The mystery of our ascension means to lose ourselves in the light, to sink into the light of God. The mystery of this ascension is not only carried out in our progressive hiding place, in our progressive sinking into silence to live only before the Face of the Father: it also means ascending, ascending. We participate in the Mystery of Ascension if we live this constant aspiration, this ever new and ever stronger desire, ever more alive, to tend to God, to reach him. This thirst, this desire of the Lord, must remain alive in us. Ascending means continually overcoming one’s way, continually transcending perfection, the degree of holiness that we have achieved. We can’t stop. And if ascending means constantly and continuously transcending one another, you also mean living in a continuous inner novelty, a novelty that is not determined by the change of places and human relationships – we all feel the weight of a constant, daily work, the monotony of a life that knows nothing new. It is not an external novelty that leads us into a continuous ascension towards the Lord. The ascension that leads us to God is a straight path, which has only one direction, and we ascend as we maintain ourselves in this one direction.

St. John of the Cross, at the beginning of the Ascent of Mount Carmel, says that the only path you take to the top is the path of nothingness. If the soul wants more things, she bends back to multiplicity: instead of going up she descends, scatters, dissipates, disperses. Ascending to God means saying yes to overcome and transcend one another continuously, but keeping the soul in one direction in one’s own path. There is therefore, in this transcendence, in this continuous overcoming, something fixed, immutable: the direction, the constancy to strive for a single goal, which is God, the constancy of wanting one thing, indeed, of wanting Him, supreme good of the soul. Fixed in this desire of the soul, what must be n egg in us is the strength, intensity of Desire, Hunger and Thirst of God. We must grow more and more every day in this desire, in this aspiration. We cannot be content with who we are: God is still infinitely distant and distant. May all our earthly journey be a continuous ascension! Thus we only participate in the Mystery of christ’s Ascension.

Let us remember that man does not in fact live still, fixed immutable to the divine Presence that when he has passed from the life present in future life, that is, when for man every time will have passed forever. As long as we live in time, time has only one justification for us: it is the condition of a continuous ascendancy. As long as we live in time down here, our whole life must be but one journey that brings us closer to the Lord every day. No other path brings us closer to God than love. It is not the change of work, it is not the setting of new exercises of piety, mortification, new acts of obedience: it is not in this that man approaches God. Man’s approach to God, once man is truly addressed to the Lord, is determined only by the growth of divine charity in us. Virtues are necessary because they precisely impose a straightening of our nature, bent over to earthly things: as long as we are not obedient to the divine commandments, but we are addressed to creatures and not to God, to God we turn our backs. As long as we walk with our faces not addressed to the Lord, we move further and further away from him. But once we have turned to the Lord, once we have turned to God, what brings us closer to God and brings us forward in God day by day is only love. God’s desire must grow in us, this aspiration must be made more alive every day. Are we truly alive in this desire for God? At the beginning of this journey that we have embarked on in encounter with him, and now less alive or more alive this desire of God in our hearts?

To participate in the Mystery of the Ascension of Christ is to let yourself be consumed by this fire, you mean to be so caught in the fire of Love that they are also totally consumed for Him. You have to love God. Love. In love we cannot find rest. Fire never says enough, says the Book of Proverbs: the Holy Spirit and love for God equally never says enough. Not because you ask for something more every day, but because what you ask is asked for it every day with greater force, every day more this divine need imposes itself on your spirit and pushes you with a force not only new, but every day more powerful. And it is this divine love that grows in the heart of man, which not only renews our youth like that of the eagle – according to the expression of the Psalmist – but really gives the soul an ever greater youth. It is at the beginning of spiritual life that we are old, and it is at the end that we are not only young, but begin our lives. When we begin the journey as we are slow, how tiring it is to proceed, how we go on wearily, how God urgently urgentlyes in our hearts, how we feel untidy in responding to Him! But as we walk, how God’s love attracts us and makes our pace faster and freer our adherence, and how it makes the transport of the soul more violent! It’s like a magnet that gets the closer it gets to the object the more it attracts it to itself. This is what basically happens in the physical world, according to the laws of gravitation: one body attracts the other body to the extent of its size and to the extent that the other object is close to this body. But the more god attracts then! The more God draws the soul to Himself as the soul approaches him. God’s need is this divine attraction that grows dizzyingly in the soul every day. And it is this attraction of God that determines the growth of love in us and also determines the progress of this ascent, this swirling rise of the soul in perfection, this approach of the soul to God, who seems to be increasingly moving away from us to call us every day with an ever stronger voice, with an increasingly powerful attraction. We must live this continuous novelty of the Spirit, this adherence to God ever stronger, this love, this thirst and hunger for God ever fuller. Thus only we participate in the Mystery of christ’s Ascension. That’s it. But so that these are not just words, we must now say how to live this ascension to God, this hunger for God every day greater, this desire of God every day more alive.

For God to attract us and god’s attraction truly exercises this strength in the soul in order to draw us with greater violence every day, the strength of this divine love that attracts us must not find in us an impediment to being attracted. That is, in us this desire for God, this aspiration to God, will grow more and more, to the extent that we will be free, loose. Not that we try to grow in love as if this could depend on us: growing up in love depends on the love of God that attracts us to Himself and attracts us to Himself makes more and more vehemently the desire of the soul that is pushed to him. But the effectiveness of this love of God, that is, the power to be attracted, depends after all also on us, on the fact that divine love attracting us does not find in us the impediment of some bond in fact we cannot be torn from things and taken out and attracted by Him. So, after all, one thing the Lord asks us: may our inner freedom become fuller every day, be truly pure – then God’s love will totally consume us. What are we related to? Too many things! And it is the things to which we are bound that really prevent the ascension of the soul to God. So often we feel this aspiration to God, this call of God that attracts us to Himself, yet every day we feel it and remain firm, we do not ascend. Why don’t we go up? The fact of feeling an attraction is not in itself loving God, it is the act of love so God calls us. Our response is determined by the freedom of the soul that can more or less respond to this divine attraction to the extent that the soul is more or less free, loose, or more or less bound. So what is imposed, for the soul, is inner freedom from every bond to ourselves: not self-love, not susceptibility, not the search for ourselves, for ambitions, for affections, but free from everything, from every creature, neither wealth must attract us, nor the esteem of men, nor anything earthly. Only God must be our love, only he must turn his heart, only He must want our soul. To the extent that our adherence to the Lord is total, our freedom from things is absolute, and to the same extent divine love grows in us dizzyingly, because love in order for the soul loves the Lord is exactly love so that God loves the soul: love in us lives to the extent that we are loved. It is exactly the same love that wave God loves you and in order you love Him. They are not two loves: your own response to divine love is love that you have received, because what do you receive but love when God loves you? And love is your answer to love. So what can we do to live this participation in the Ascension of Christ? We need inner freedom, we need to be dissolved. Are we really loose? Are we free inwardly from all ties (bond with all our will, with all our aspirations that does not have God in term, that is not exclusively for God)? Are we free from all our thoughts, from all our ideas, from our programs and drawings? Are we free from all our will or desire? Are we free from all our aspirations? Are we free? It is on this path that we must work: dissolve, detach, free ourselves. Detachment is the condition of ascent. There is no point in thinking about ascending as long as we are bound: as long as we are tied we cannot take a step. Not only can we not ascend dizzyingly to God, but we remain firm, despite the fact that inwardly we can feel the strength of God who recreates us, who presses the doors of the heart because we respond. And very often we exchange what we think and feel (and it is god’s grace) with our response, as if feeling this love of God, this need of the heart, is already a response to Him, while it is instead the call, a call that awaits response, and will receive an answer only to the extent that we are free. This then imposes itself: detach us, dissolve us, be no longer bound to anything, want nothing more than God.

It is easy to say, I know, I know that it is not so easy to achieve it, but that is why we must commit ourselves to achieving it, because that is the condition so that we can love it more and more every day. Let us not delude ourselves: it is not our feelings that measure God’s love, it is not our protests, but the real detachment, the real inner freedom that the soul will have acquired, it is this being dissolved from everything to have a pure availability before him who calls us.

Ascension therefore matters our sinking more and more into the bosom of God, a sinking into silence, a hiding in the light, like Christ. He ascended to Heaven, but ascending to Heaven does not mean for Jesus to have distanced himself from us. He lives with us, he dwells with us. Jesus said it in the Gospel. Yet we don’t see it. Ascending, for him, meant precisely entering into this infinite silence that the father’s bosom. So too our life: as we approach God, as we respond to Him and ascend to the Father, to the same extent we will sink into silence and our lives will be hidden. The greatest life of the Christian is always the poorest, simplest, most naked life, all burned and consumed by a single desire, by a single aspiration, by one love, by a single passion: God. We have also said how the Ascension of Christ matters our participation in this Mystery, our continuous progress: ascending means never remaining in the same place, you mean continually overcoming ourselves, and in this continuous overcoming we can live a continuous novelty. Not external novelty, because in fact man always remains oriented in one direction, he always tends to the same end, you do not want to achieve only the same goal: God alone.

And the journey is only one: the path of nothingness, as St John of the Cross says. We overcome ourselves day by day, day by day we are transcending into this journey that leads us to God if love grows in us, if love for God becomes in us more alive, more demanding, stronger, and more vehemently aspiration to Him, the more determined our escape to the Lord. But love cannot grow in us by our work. Love remains a gift from God, it is a theological virtue that we must constantly implore from Him. In us love lives to the extent that God himself loves. But God loves us infinitely … why don’t we love like that? Because we’re not free! God can attract us to Himself and yet this attraction needs to find us available to his strength. Breaking away from everything is the condition of our growth, of this progress in love that is our path. The end of our journey is God himself. What does the Gospel say about the Ascension of Jesus? Saint Mark speaks of Jesus who sits to the right of the Father. This is the term of man: after so much journey, rest, peace. And peace is God. Festinamus ingredi in iIIam requiem. What importance peace has always had in Christian spirituality! Peace as a truly sign of our belonging to God, indeed of our possession of God. It is now true that we, as long as we live on earth, are on a perpetual path, and that this journey will have no other end than with the end of time. However, it is also true that the life of the Christian remains a paradoxical life: one lives in time and in time one lives eternity; we clothe ourselves with Christ and yet we are clothed with Christ; we seek God and yet we already possess him. Therefore the Mystery of Ascension does not only matter the participation in a journey of continuous transcendence, it also matters the participation in the peace of Jesus who sits on the right hand of God, it matters to participate in this ineffable rest of the soul in God, which is now the very right of Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, we too must live in the bosom of the Father, sit at the right hand of God. What do you mean, “sit to the right of God” for us? The expression is anthropomorphic: neither God has the right nor will living mean sitting on a throne. “Sitting to the right of God” is a metaphorical expression. But what do you mean specifically? You mean rest. It is the immutable rest of the soul that has found its peace in the possession of God. It indicates precisely this state of imperturbability, of impassability, which is precisely of the soul once it has reached its end. Indicates possession. “The right of God” indicates extreme closeness, indicates the most intimate participation in greatness, in divine majesty: a participation in the attributes of God. What do you mean for Jesus “sitting to the right of God the Father”? You mean that even in his humanity he participates in some way in all the privileges that are proper to him as the Son of God (even in his Humanity, as far as possible to humanity, even in the Humanity of Christ, because even the Humanity of Christ remains a creature, and therefore cannot be infinite). But Jesus’ participation is as perfect and as great as possible. Here are the two things that are implicit in the expression “sit to the right of God”: the possession of God, and with god’s possession a participation in his intimate life and attributes of his Divinity, a being so close, so close to Him that they are associated with his own Glory. It was said before that Christian life is a paradoxical life: it matters together to walk and to stand still. It matters a still escape: the soul must run, it must rise, it must ascend and, remaining in its peace, it must remain fixed in its center that is God. We spoke before of this journey of the soul, of this continuous transcendence of the soul in an ascension that must bring it to the Lord. We must now realize that we do not really ascend or really seek God if we do not already possess him in our hearts. And we possess God in our hearts if we have peace: peace is truly the sign of this divine possession. This is why peace is so important in Christian life: a certain peace, that peace quae superat omnem sensum,of which Saint Paul speaks in the Letter to the Ephesians; that peace of which St Francis of Assisi speaks: Pax et bonum; peace of which St Benedict speaks: Pax. It seems that all the teachers of spirituality have only one language and see in Christian peace precisely the synthesis of all the spiritual goods that the soul enjoys. But even before the masters of Christian spirituality it is Jesus who speaks to us about peace. Even before Saint Paul it is he who speaks of it and gives it to us: Pacem meam do vobis. “Behold, I give you my peace, I give you my peace, not as the world gives it.” How many times does He speak of this peace! Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Peace! There is peace and peace, Jesus himself distinguishes it: “his” peace is not the same peace that the world gives. What is god’s peace but the sign of divine possession? What, if not the immutable stability of the soul that has finally found its rest? St Augustine says: “You have made our hearts for You and restless is our heart as long as it does not rest in You”. The rest of the soul is possible only when the soul truly possesses God, because God alone is the good of the soul and therefore only in the possession of this good the soul and quiet, is satiated, and does not seek nor can seek anything anymore. There is peace and peace. World peace … But the peace of the world, in the final analysis, is the peace already celebrated by Tacitus: “They made the desert and called the desert peace”: the peace of death! The peace of life is the possession of God. A possession of God in order for the soul is no longer troubled by the present things: what happens, she is not touched by anything, nothing has the ability to disturb her, to cause her anxieties, to take away her certainty. Of course, even in the possession of God the soul can suffer, but another thing is suffering and another thing is peace. Suffering is opposed to joy, not peace. Jesus’ soul lived an imperturbable peace even in his painful Passion, and the Saints live in peace even if they live in agony. The peace of the soul that God possesses is something too deep for anguish to disturb her. What is this peace? It was said: it is the stop, the establishment of the soul in its center. Settle the soul in its center. Are you established in your center? Where’s your soul? What is it related to? Where does he rest? In its center or in things? If he rests in human things, he does not rest in his center; if he seeks his peace in things, the soul does not possess the peace of God, that peace that the world cannot kidnap. If you seek your peace in the possession of the esteem of men, when you lack this esteem you will no longer possess your peace. If you seek your peace, your rest in wealth, then this “security” is not god’s peace: the soul does not rest in its center, and if it were to lack the riches it would be troubled, it would have no more peace. It is thus: souls who rest in wealth and find a certain peace there, in reality have no rest, but worries and anxieties, because they seek peace in the things that cannot give it. If your soul rests in present life, in youth, in health, when health is in danger, when youth goes away, your soul no longer possesses peace: it lives in anxiety, in disturbance, in anguish. For the soul to be established in its centre, it must find its rest in God, solely in God. And if the soul finds its rest in God, all things can be lost but nothing is taken away from it: the soul lives the same life because it possesses the same peace. Nothing can take away from the soul this peace, because nothing can take God away from the soul. We must have peace in divine possession. This possession is given to us because God loves us and, loving us, He himself gives himself: you possess it to the extent that you possess peace, to the extent that you rest in Him. Find your rest, seek your rest in the Lord! What are riches? What is present life? What is men’s esteem? What is the affection of creatures? What, all the goods of the world? smoke… They are “goods” because they have a certain value – nothing can be despised, everything is created by God and everything that God has created is good – but, despite being values, they are precarious axes and cannot satiate the soul. Without despising these values, without giving up if God does not ask you, but do not find your rest in them: accept them if he gives them to you, but do not stop your heart, do not find your peace in their possession so that, even if you miss them, your life will spend equal, calm, serene, rested in Him , in a Good that can never compromise anything and that no one can ever tear you, because nothing can attack this divine possession except the soul itself. May the soul possess peace, peace of God’s possession! In this possession of God, in this profound peace, the soul is also in some way a participant in divine goods, it is associated with the same glory of God: a feeling of glory invades it, which makes it somehow invulnerable even in the face of present things. As, even in suffering, the soul enjoys divine closeness, as it lives in the peace of God! How, even in poverty, the soul enjoys this divine possession!

Look at St Francis of Assisi: his soul has found peace in god’s possession and nothing can tear it from him. And Francis possesses not only peace but, in this peace which is the sign of divine possession, he is somehow sharering in the same glory of God that makes him invulnerable to all earthly sufferings, and despite poverty and suffering he enjoys, he lives the same bliss as God. Dying, he participates in divine bliss and praises the Lord for death as for all the beautiful things in the world: everything is equal, for him, because he, through all things, lives the very bliss of God. This is also for us the way of living participation in the Ascension of Christ. As for Jesus, even for us to ascend to the Father you do not mean to shirk men, to go … in a star: it means staying down here unattached to this world, not seeking peace in the goods down here. You mean living among men, but hidden in the light of God, in the possession of that ineffable peace that is the hallmark of a presence of God in the soul itself. You mean living among men, but already living a participation in god’s own bliss, all gathered, hidden, sunk in divine silence. This, for us, means participating in the Mystery of christ’s Ascension.

Don Divo Barsotti

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