On the Feast of the Ascension just celebrated on Thursday of this week, the Paschal Candle was extinguished after the reading of the Gospel. This was a sign to us that Jesus Christ has ascended to the Father, and is no longer seen on this earth with the eyes of the body. How then can we know Him, since even among those who saw Him there were many who did not know Him? "They have not known the Father nor Me," said Jesus, speaking of those who would kill His disciples, thinking that by doing so they were offering worship to God (Jn.16:2b,3).
Knowledge of Jesus Christ must be based on more than sight. Such knowledge comes with faith, which we receive along with the other theological virtues in baptism. But this faith is only an incipient faith, and like the grain of mustard seed, it must be watered and nourished until it reaches full growth. This, in fact, is the work of the Holy Ghost, the Advocate, Whom Jesus promised to send us from the Father. He reveals Jesus to us through baptism and the other sacraments, through prayer and the reading of the Scriptures, and through the diligent practice of the Christian life. We grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus, and are gradually conformed to His likeness.
The work of the Holy Ghost in our souls sometimes happens in surprising ways. Mary, at prayer in her home in Nazareth, is visited by the Angel Gabriel, who announces that she is to become the mother of the Savior, Jesus Christ, through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul, on his way to Damascus, is struck down by a blinding light, out of which Jesus Himself speaks to him. St. Francis, in prayer on Mount Alverno, receives the marks of the five wounds of Jesus. St. Teresa of Avila, as she passes a picture of Christ in His agony, sees it come alive for her, and it changes her life. In our own lives, too, there are moments of grace, inspirations from the Holy Ghost, though seldom so dramatic. For these we must be grateful, since they build up our faith. Most of the time, however, it's a matter of patience, hard work, and perseverance.
The greatest tragedy for a Christian is to lose the faith. Consider the story of Julian the Apostate, the nephew of the Emperor Constantine, who ruled as emperor from 361 to 363 A.D. Outwardly a Christian, after he became emperor he revoked the privileges the Church had been granted by Constantine and reopened the pagan temples. He defied the Gospel in an attempt to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple, but was prevented from doing so by an earthquake and fire issuing forth from the earth. It is said that as he lay dying in Persia after being wounded in battle, he uttered the cry, "Thou hast conquered, O Galilean."
Among the greatest apostates of the last century were Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin. Both were baptized Christians, and Stalin even attended a seminary in his youth, until he was expelled. Between them, these two antichrists were responsible for the deaths of countless millions of Christians, Jews, and Muslims among others, through decades of wars and persecutions.
But there is nothing more terrible for the Church than apostasy among her pastors. When pope, bishops and priests lose the faith, they take the people with them. Most Catholics today no longer fear Divine Justice and the prospect of spending their eternity in hell. They have lost the sense of sin and are no longer concerned about living in the state of grace. They get comforting messages from the pulpit, like, "Be not afraid!" They have lost the fear of God. They no longer know Jesus Christ.
Those who do not know Jesus as Savior, Lord and Friend in this life, will know Him as Judge on the last day at the General Judgment. They will find themselves standing at His left with the goats, and will hear Him pronounce sentence:
"Depart from Me, accursed ones, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels…" (Mt.25:41b).
Our task during this life is to know the Savior, Jesus, and to be His faithful disciples, carefully carrying out His commands. In St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians we find these words for reflection:
"For this reason I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from Whom all Father-hood in Heaven and on earth receives its name, that He may grant you from His glorious riches to be strengthened with power through His Spirit unto the progress of the inner man; and to have Christ dwelling through faith in your hearts: so that, being rooted and grounded in love you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know Christ's love which surpasses knowledge, in order that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God" (Eph.3:14-19).
Fight the good fight, grow daily in the faith, that you may find yourselves among the sheep on His right at the Last Judgment, and hear the Just Judge say: "Come, blessed of My Father, take possession of the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…" (Mt.25:34b). †