Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension and as part of our ceremony the Paschal candle is extinguished. The candle represents the Risen Christ, the light of the world, who was present to his disciples for forty days after his resurrection. During that time Jesus prepared them for the fact that very shortly he was going to leave them, but that in his leaving he would remain with them in a new way.
The person he first appeared to after he rose from the dead was Mary Magdalene. To her he said, ‘Mary, do not cling to me because I have not yet ascended to my God and to your God’. Notice the phrase, ‘Do not cling’. Later he would say to his disciples ‘It is for your own good that I am going because If I do not go the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit cannot come. He also made some very paradoxical remarks like, ‘In a short time you will no longer see me and then you will see me again’. Also, ‘I am going away but shortly I will return’.
The main trust of all his teaching around all that time was to teach them the importance of not clinging, of letting go; that if they refused to let him go they could not have him in that new way. He was really saying that while once I was with you now I will be within you. Physically he would be absent but spiritually he would remain and so his final words were, ‘I will be with you always, even to the end of time’.
The Buddist tradition teaches a similar truth, namely that most, if not all, suffering is caused by attachment. The more we hold on to things or to people the more suffering we create for ourselves. We become insecure and then jealousy can destroy what we have and want the most. The more we learn to let go the greater is our capacity to have and to truly love. There are so many who flounder, sometimes for decads, in unresolved grief and after this Covit there’s going to be a lot more. There’s been a loss or a series of losses that he or she has never got over. Someone has died or a relationship has broken up and years later they are still holding on to that person for dear life. So he or she lives in the past and has little or
no hope for the future. The mistaken belief is the more I hold on the more I have, while the real truth is that the more I let go the more I will feel connected. Just consider the things and people we try to hold onto and notice the damage it does to us and to the relationship.
The Paschal candle is extinguished on feast of the Ascension to remind us not to look for Christ any place else other than primarily in our own hearts and in the hearts of one another.
You may have heard the ancient tale of God’s original problem, where could He conceal his most precious posession, His own image. He called three wise men to listen to their advice. On advised him to put it on the top of the highest mountain where it would be safe forever. This suggestion was declined because God foresee great mountaineering feats. The other suggested that it should be consigned to the depths of the deepest ocean, but looking to the future God saw submarines and said no. Another thought, the far side of the moon but again God saw that man would one day reach the moon. Then God had His original idea. He would put it in a place people would never think of looking. He would place it in their hearts, there it would never be discovered. The three wise man nodded in agreement for they knew that God was right.
The image of God, the light of God, is in that place we rarely look, In our hearts. We believe that God’s presence is within us not as a hiding place but where we might discover him at close quarters. I relation to the Ascension St Augustine said, ‘He withdrew from our eyes so that we might return to our own hearts to find him. When the light goes out in the Paschal Candle we are invited to find that light nearer home in our own heart.
For us catholics to think of God within us calls for a huge shift of awareness. We were brought up to think of God up there and of Jesus in the tabernacle but certainly not of God in my own heart. Yet the realty is that the true dwelling place of God is the human heart. To take that simple but profound truth on board can literally transform the way I think about myself and the way I relate to others. If God is within me then I am part of God and so there is absolutely no room for self-negation, self-rejection, self-judgment, self-condemnation or deeming myself unworthy. Any negativity that I direct towards myself is a denial of God. For the many of us who were almost reared to keep putting ourselves down that thought is quite revolutionary.
If I truly believe that God is within you then the measure of my love and respect for you is the exact measure of my love and respect for God. This thinking is enormously challenging especially when dealing with difficult people and those we just don’t like. It can be all to easy to lock Christ up in a box where we can insulate ourselves from his demands. Can you just imagine what a difference it would make if I truly saw God both in myself and in you. To make that difference is what each of us is called to. The lovely Eastern greeting that we are using at this time, in place of shaking hands, Namaste is a direct reminder of that because it literally means, I greet the divine in you.