The simple theological insight of Joseph Ratzinger: the ascension took place when Our Lady said “Yes” and the humanity of the man Jesus of Nazareth was assumed by the divine Person of the Word (“The Word became flesh” Jn. 1, 14).
Ratzinger: “What, then, is the meaning of Christ’s ‘ascension into heaven’? It expresses our belief that in Christ human nature, the humanity in which we all share, has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of say. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God. Heaven is not a place beyond the stars, but something much greater , something that requires far more audacity to asset: Heaven means that man has a place in God.
“The basis for this assertion is the interpenetration of humanity and divinity in the crucified and exalted man Jesus Christ, the man who is in God and eternally one with God, is at the same time God’s abiding openness to all human beings (i.e. all of us). Thus Jesus himself is what we call ‘heaven,’ heaven is not a place but a person, the person of him in whom God and man are forever and inseparably one. And we go to heaven and enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. In this sense, ‘ascension into heaven’ can be something that takes place in our every day lives.
“Only in the light of these various connections can we understand why Luke should tell us, at the end of his Gospel that after the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem ‘with great joy’ (lk. 24, 52) They know that what had occurred was not a departure; if it sere, they would hardly have experienced ‘great joy.’ No, in their eyes the Ascension and the Resurrection were one and the same event. This even gave them the certainty that the crucified Jesus was alive, that he had overcome death, which cuts man off from God, the Living One; and that the door to eternal life was henceforth forever open.
“For the disciples, then, the ‘ascension’ was not what we usually misinterpret it as being: the temporary absence of Christ from the world. It meant rat her his new, definitive, and irrevocable presence by participation in God’s royal power [“The Ascension tells us that the crucified man Jesus now exercises God’s kingship over the world”]
“Hence, the disciples are not to remain staring into the future or to wait broodingly for the time of his return. No, they are to realize that he is ceaselessly present and even that he desires to become ever more present through their activity, inasmuch as the gift of the Spirit and the commission to bear witness, preach, and be missionaries are the way in which he is now already present. The proclamation of the Good News everywhere in the world is that way in which, during the period between he Resurrection and second coming, the Lord gives expression to his royal rule over all the world, as he exercises his lordship in the humble form of the word… For John, the mystery of Good Friday, of Easter, and of Christ’s Ascension form but a single mystery. The cross has a second, mysterious dimension: it is the royal throne from which Christ exercises his kingship and draws the human race to himself… Christ’s royal throne is the cross….” (J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 61-65,
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The Ascension from two perspectives: 1) the Ascension of humanity into heaven already took place at the Annunciation when Our Lady said: “Fiat:” Human nature was assumed by the divine Person of the Son to become the God-Man. Jesus Christ was already man-in-heaven. 2) At the event of the ascension, Jesus Christ ascends to the right hand of the Father = He takes His humanity within the Trinitarian relations as Son of the Father and Spirator of the Holy Spirit.
“For the Son’s ascension into heaven is necessary if the Spirit is to be poured out in every dimension. In giving his life, bodily and spiritually, for his followers, he manifests the incarnational aspect of the gift of the Spirit: we enter God’s intimate sphere through the door formed by the wound in the side of God’s Word and Son, who was uttered and manifested to us ‘even unto death. Otherwise we would never have grasped what God’s Holy Spirit of love is, namely the highest degree of self-giving, shining forth in the Son’s squandering of his flesh and blood. His prodigality bursts the bounds of finite life as the Son returns to the infinite Father, together with whom, from all eternity, he breathes and shares the one Spirit. The Church receives the signal of ‘arrival’ with the Father, according to his promise, in the Pentecost gift of the Spirit. The withdrawal of the figure of the Son from sense-perception ‘frees’ the Spirit, and the ascension is the transfiguration and consummation of the death of Jesus. Caught up (the raptus of Apocalypse 12, 5) to the ‘right hand of the Father,’ the Son’s transfigured humanity becomes involved in the eternal spiration of the Holy Spirit, and the immediate consequence of this is that the Spirit is poured out into Christ’s mystical body on earth.
“Once again the relationship changes; up to now it was the Son, the Word, who breathed the Spirit, showing himself to be ‘the Lord of the Spirit’ (2 Cor. 3, 18). Indeed, he himself was the ‘Spirit’ insofar as the eternal Word of God contains the depth, the vitality and the power of the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3, 17m Jn. 6, 63) in contrast to all finite, earthly and ‘fleshly’ words….”
Let me stop with Von Balthasar here because of the abstractness of it. But look what he is saying and the great sense it makes. He is saying that we are involved in the very engendering and spirating of the divine Persons of the Son and the Spirit. It’s already in Our Lady. She freely says “Yes” to the vocation to be the mother, thus engendering the Son. But we are also protagonists of doing just that: Jesus is told “his mother and brothers are standing outside and wish to see him,’ and he replies “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8, 20-21). As the Virgin becomes the Mother of God by hearing the Word and doing it [saying “yes”], so also we are called to “hear the Word and do it” and by so doing engender Jesus Christ as she did. The leitmotif of “Mother of the Redeemer” is “Blessed is she who believed” (Lk. 1, 45). As she is moved by the Spirit to say “Yes,” and thus enters the Trinity to become the Mother of God, Jesus Christ, so also are we moved by the Spirit to say “Yes” and engender the Son of God in us, which I understand to be the quid divinum in ordinary life that St. Josemaria talks about in “Passionately Loving the World.” One becomes Christ Himself by the giving of the self in the exercise of ordinary work and family life. And since our work and family life are our “yes” breathed out as gift to the others, we engender Christ in them if we speak with daring (parrhesia) and they are open to hear and receive.
This, of course, means that we are already in the end-time. Heaven is already here because Jesus Christ is already here. And it is being historically instantiated by the transformation of individual persons into “other Christs,” which is achieved by their ongoing gift of themselves in ordinary life to death which is their final self-gift. And so, heaven is now – and developing. This is what is meant by the “kingdom of God,” and what we pray – almost unknowingly – “they kingdom come.” The final eschatology is already upon us.