Sixth Week of Easter

Head in the Clouds?

In one sense, the Catholic Church has its Head in the clouds. In another sense, it does not have its head in the clouds at all!

After spending 40 days with his apostles, the Risen Christ ascended into heaven. As we have already seen, Jesus is the Head of his Body, the Church. As he was lifted up, "a cloud took him from their sight" (Acts 1:9). So the Church does have its Head in the clouds! And where the Head has gone, the Body will follow. Through his Ascension, Jesus brought his human nature into the very throne room of God, thus opening the gates of heaven to humanity. Christ's Ascension sealed the peace between God and the Church. It gives us a firm hope of heaven after death and eternal life in the Kingdom when Christ returns. The Lord's presence in heaven also means that he is constantly interceding for us with the Father, sending us the Holy Spirit and manifold graces to help us fulfill our mission and reach our heavenly homeland.
But in common speech, to have one's "head in the clouds" is to be absentminded or impractical. In this sense, the Church certainly does not have its head in the clouds. Jesus was eminently practical in his instructions to his apostles immediately before his Ascension:

When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
— Acts 1:6-8

Jesus doesn't waste time with the apostle's curiosity about the future. He gets right down to business, focusing on the here and now, giving the Church its evangelistic mission, and promising to send the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples to carry it out. We saw in the Great Commission that he specifically instructs the Church to preach, baptize, and teach.

In St. Mark's Gospel, Jesus lists signs that will accompany the apostles: 
"in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:17-18). Jesus knows the trials his Church will face. He does not plan to clear away all challenges, but he does promise to provide his peace in the midst of troubles. In addition to showing the love and power of God, these signs serve practical purposes like protecting the apostles from harm and helping them to communicate the Gospel message. Though Jesus is about to go up into heaven, he is helpfully down to earth. You might say that our Head has his feet planted firmly on the ground.

And those feet went marching right away!

So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But [the apostles] went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
— Mark 16:19-20

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

This collect prayer begins the Mass for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Jesus is calling us to "take up battle against spiritual evils." We'll explore fasting itself in a few weeks; during the week of Ash Wednesday, we're going to dig into an important set of weapons the Lord gives us to fight evil: sacramentals.

What's a sacramental? Well, if you attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, you're probably going to receive one on your forehead.