“At the Right Hand of the Father”

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4/1/2009

The 14th installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 127-135 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In one of his many homilies, St. Augustine warned his 5th century congregation not to pine for the good old days: “You hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times!”

He could easily be speaking to us. At one time or another, all of us have conjured up an imaginary time when life was better and discipleship was easier. Longing for the good old days indicates that we don’t understand the hardships our forebears endured. Instead of waiting for the Lord “with joyful hope,” we may find ourselves trying to turn back the clock — but time knows only one direction.

THE FIRST DISCIPLES Back to Top

If ever there was a group that needed faith and trust in God and his promises, it was the first followers of Christ. They truly lived in unprecedented times. They saw with their eyes and touched with their hands the Word made flesh. They witnessed Jesus’ miracles, saw him die on the Cross and encountered him after he rose again.

We may wrongly imagine that faith came easily to these first Christians. Yet, it is difficult to grasp how astonishing Christ’s resurrection really was for his first disciples. “The Apostles could not have invented the story of the resurrection since it seemed impossible to them” (Compendium, 127). They needed faith and trust in God no less than we do!

After all, the resurrection of Jesus was not merely a resuscitation; it was different from the miracles Jesus’ performed to bring the dead back to life. Like those miracles, Jesus’ resurrection was an event in history, and the marks on his hands and side attest to the fact that “his risen body is that which was crucified” (Compendium, 129). Nonetheless, the Resurrection was an event that goes beyond history. By rising from the dead, Jesus brought our humanity into the glory of God.

Scripture reveals that Jesus, risen from the dead, could “appear to his disciples how and where he wished and under various aspects” (ibid). Thus, Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener until he spoke her name (John 20:11 ff). Similarly, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize the risen Lord as they walked along; their eyes were opened when they recognized him “in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:13 ff). Finally, the Apostles, locked in the Upper Room out of fear, were amazed when Jesus stood in their midst (Luke 24:36 ff).

While these appearances and others after Christ’s resurrection brought joy to the disciples, they also caused deep wonderment, fear and confusion. After all, in the Resurrection, the disciples encountered the awesome work of the Holy Trinity. As the Compendium explains: “The three Persons act together according to what is proper to them: the Father manifests his power; the Son ‘takes again’ the life which he freely offered (Jn 10:17), reuniting his soul and his body which the Spirit brings to life and glorifies” (Compendium, 130).

In a very real sense, there was no road map for the life of faith that the first followers of Christ were called to embrace. The Resurrection surpassed all God had promised of old. To be one of these first disciples was certainly a challenge, the likes of which we can scarcely imagine. To be sure, the disciples fully came to grasp all this only after they had received the Holy Spirit.

‘LOOKING INTO THE HEAVENS’ Back to Top

In some ways, of course, the Resurrection confirmed that Jesus is truly the Son of God. It also confirmed all he had ever taught and done. As the victor over sin and death, Jesus makes it possible for us to stand holy and righteous before God as his beloved sons and daughters. We share his risen life now through the life of grace; we hope one day to share in the Resurrection, “when Christ will raise our mortal bodies and make them like his own in glory” (see Eucharistic Prayer III; Compendium, 131).

On the solemnity of the Ascension, we read how the disciples were “looking up into the heavens” after the Lord ascended (Acts 1:6 ff). Naturally, they longed for the risen Lord to remain with them. Just as the Son of God descended into human history by becoming man, so now did he ascend, bearing on his shoulders a redeemed humanity.

Indeed, Jesus ascended beyond human sight to “the right hand of the Father” (Acts 2:33; Eph 1:20-22). Echoing Psalm 16:11, St. Augustine teaches that God’s right hand is a place of indescribable peace and joy. It is here that Jesus reigns, the supreme instrument of God’s mighty hand (see Psalm 80:16, 18). As we say at Mass, he “pleads for us at the right hand of the Father” (Penitential Rite, Form C).

As God’s Son who fulfilled the Father’s plan of redemption, Jesus’ saving deeds have absolutely universal value for every time, place and culture. Even though he is exalted at the Father’s right hand, Jesus also remains with us, just as he promised. By the power of the Holy Spirit, his kingdom of the Beatitudes takes root on earth through the ministry and sacramental life of the Church. It is this kingdom that we hope to experience fully in heaven.

Without presumption, we look ahead to the final judgment when “the secrets of hearts will be brought to light as well as the conduct of each one toward God and toward his neighbor” (Compendium, 135). We pray for Christ to come again, not only to reveal fully his glory but, indeed, to be the judge of the living and dead. The fact of final judgment underscores the need for us not to dawdle in the past but, rather, to seek forgiveness, to live each day in love of God and neighbor, and to pray as men and women of hope, adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. The prayer on our lips should be the same as the first Christians: “Come, Lord!” (Rev 22:20).

DISCUSSION/REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR COUNCIL USE Back to Top

1. How are today’s challenges with regard to faith the same or different than those of earlier times? What perspective should we have when looking to the past and to the future?

2. How does the Resurrection of Christ differ from a mere return to earthly life? What is the significance and meaning of the Resurrection as it pertains to our faith and salvation?

3. What do we mean when we profess that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty?” How does Jesus now reign?

4. What does the Church teach about the glorious coming of Christ and the Last Judgment? Why should we pray, as the first Christians did, “Come, Lord!”? (Rev. 22:20)

For additional questions, refer to the Compendium, 112-126.