On this day (on these days) we commemorate the Ascension of the Lord. His physical departure from the world did not indicate his abandonment of his chosen ones but, rather, the Ascension is his passing over from a physical presence with his disciples into a sacramental presence with his Church. Christ is as present with his Church now as He was with the apostles.
Today, I want to speak about the virtues, in particular one which is closely linked with Christ’s physical departure from this world.
But first, what is a virtue? The Catechism helps us. It defines a virtue as an “habitual and firm disposition to do the good”.
Parents train their children in virtue. Our Catholic schools help in the cultivation of virtue. And our society prizes and recognises virtue. These are the human virtues which enhance human living and community. You often see them appearing in school mottos.
There are also the moral virtues which are acquired by human effort and are the fruit of morally good actions, such as honesty and integrity. CCC1804
Among all the virtues there are four cardinal ones which play a pivotal role. CCC1805
These are prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. We find these four praised sometimes under different names in Sacred Scripture but they are always recognisable.
Prudence is what allows our practical reason discern our true good and to choose it.
Justice is the will to give what is due to God and due to our neighbour.
Fortitude gives us firmness in difficulties and allows us to always seek what is good, no matter what.
Temperance is what helps us to be moderate in our pleasures and to have mastery over our instincts and desires.
All of these are human virtues; present within us because of our humanity and which we can cultivate through the use of our intellect, our reason, and our will. Of course, we believe too that God’s divine grace can help us to persevere, and also our repeated efforts to grow in virtue can be elevated by divine grace.
However, there are three virtues that relate directly to God and are not possible for us to develop from our own humanity. These theological virtues are infused by God into the soul of those who are baptised and receive the Sacraments. CCC1812-13
These virtues are faith, hope and charity.
It is the virtue of hope about which I wish to speak today. It could be said that the Ascension and physical departure of the Lord began the life of His disciples motivated and marked by hope.
The theological virtue of hope is not the same as hoping you might fall in love and get married; hoping you might have a successful career or find a job. Those things may or may not happen. Christian hope goes further, even beyond this world, because hope is the virtue “by which we desire…heaven and eternal life as our happiness.” CCC1817
Because of the philosophy of the Enlightenment so prevalent in our society, many people put their hope in science and technology. But the 20th century, with two World Wars, weapons of mass destruction, enduring conflict, and science and medicine that sees human life as an object rather than that to be served, has shown that hope in science and technology is deceptive. In other words, there is no perfect world that we can build on this earth. Anyone who promises that is giving a false hope. Jesus Christ did not promise a perfect world but he preached the coming of the Kingdom of God which would come about through conversion of heart and faith in Him.
The Miracle of Cenacolo
While the apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje do not have official Church approbation, million of pilgrims go there every year. In Medjugorje there is a building called the Cenacolo, where young men (mainly from neighbouring Italy) who have been addicted to drugs are welcomed for a uniquely Catholic recovery program designed by a Catholic nun called Sr Elvira.
The young men do hard labour in a stone quarry interspersed with adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The time of prayer is not compulsory but the young men quickly learn that if they don’t go to prayer they have to keep working. So there’s a 100% attendance at Adoration. And this is where the miracle of Cenacolo happens. Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament works on the hearts of these young men.
Through this prayerful contact with Christ, along with the rhythm of work and the brotherhood of the young men, each young man regains his dignity and regains hope. Young men who have been to the Cenacolo testify to the miraculous effect of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
Some of the young men painted an icon on the wall of their chapel behind the altar. It shows Christ rising out of the tomb, and drawing behind Him Adam and Eve and all the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament and all who have been saved. It shows the chains of darkness broken and proclaims the hope that Christ brings to all who turn to him.
The call to follow Christ and to give Him first place in our lives gives us hope. Eph 1:18
We can’t conjure up this hope because how can we create eternal life and blessedness with the saints. We can’t even control our own passions at times and we certainly cannot control the reality that we will die.
Yet despite our weakness, our sins and our eventual death, the voice of the Risen and Ascended Christ says to us – to all who love Me and do My will I promise the glory of Heaven, to which I go to prepare a place for you. cf Matt 10:22 and John 14:1-6
(The story of Cenacolo is taken from Fr Ken Barker’s book “Young Men Rise Up”)