At 12 noon today, the Holy Father Francis looked out of the studio window in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to recite the Regina Caeli with the faithful and pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square.
These were the Pope’s words in introducing the Marian prayer:
Before the Regina Caeli
Dear brothers and sisters, buongiorno!
Today, in Italy and many other countries, the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated. It is a feast we know well, but which can raise several questions – at least two. The first question: Why celebrate Jesus’s departure from the earth? It would seem that his departure would be a sad moment, not exactly something to rejoice over! Why celebrate a departure? First question. Second question: What does Jesus do now in heaven? First question: Why celebrate? Second question: What does Jesus do in heaven?
Why we are celebrating. Because with the Ascension, something new and beautiful happened: Jesus brought our humanity, our flesh, into heaven – this is the first time – that is, he brought it in God. That humanity that he had assumed on earth did not remain here. The risen Jesus was not a spirit, no. He had his human body, flesh and bones, everything. He will be there in God. We could say that from the day of the Ascension on, God himself “changed” – from that point on, he is not only spirit, but such is his love for us that he bears our own flesh in himself, our humanity! The place awaiting us is thus indicated; that is our destiny. Thus wrote an ancient Father in the faith: “What splendid news! He who became man for us […] to make us his brothers, presents himself as man before the Father to bear with himself all those who are joined with him” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, Discourse on the Resurrection of Christ, 1). Today, we celebrate “heaven’s conquest” – Jesus, who returns to the Father, but with our humanity. And so, heaven is already ours a little bit. Jesus has opened the door and his body is there.
The second question: So, what does Jesus do in heaven? He is there for us before the Father, continually showing our humanity to him – showing him his wounds. I like to think that Jesus, prays like this in front of the Father – making him see his wounds. “This is what I suffered for humanity: Do something!” He shows the Father the price of our redemption. The Father is moved. This is something I like to think about. But think about it yourselves. This is how Jesus prays. He did not leave us alone. In fact, before ascending, he told us, as the Gospel says today, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). He is always with us, looking at us, and “he always lives to make intercession” (Heb 7:25) for us. To make the Father see his wounds, for us. In a word, Jesus intercedes. He is in a better “place”, before his Father and ours, to intercede on our behalf.
Intercession is fundamental. This faith helps us too – not to lose hope, not to get discouraged. Before the Father, there is someone who makes him see his wounds and intercedes. May the Queen of heaven help us to intercede with the power of prayer.