The mission of Catholic education, the mission of Gregory the Great Academy, is arguably the most important one in the world—to make citizens for the next world. Dr. John Senior, the teacher whose educational methods and ideas informed the origins of our community, described Christian culture as the cultivation of saints. During this time of year when we honor all the saints and all those souls who will become saints, we are reminded of this truth and, again, honored that we have been given the incredible opportunity to labor in this bright corner of the vineyard and tend to our harvest. Teaching is like tending, like gardening—constantly requiring weeding, watching, and waiting. The faculty at Gregory the Great bear this ever in mind as we engage in the art of teaching and, God willing, in the work of cultivating saints. There are 63 spirited boys at the Academy, each one giving their all to the good school that God has provided for them. May it prove their path to heaven.
Can We Drop the Ascension Story?
by Sean Fitzpatrick
The Ascension of Jesus Christ, related in the Gospels of Mark and Luke and referred to throughout the New Testament, can be taken as something of an awkward anecdote. “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight,” (Acts 1:9). There is something about the Ascension that is inconceivable, even for a miracle—something that is almost too fabulous about the idea and image of Jesus “flying.” For those who stumble over the Ascension, there is often an aspect of mythical fantasy or primitive whimsy involved in accepting such a thing. Can people really take seriously the account of a Man floating into the clouds? Is the Ascension worth the risk of alienating those influenced by a cynical realism? This is the Faith, after all, not a fairy tale. Can we drop this story of Christ soaring through the sky?
C. S. Lewis takes on this very question in Miracles:
Can we then simply drop the Ascension story? The answer is that we can do so only if we regard the Resurrection appearances as those of a ghost or hallucination. For a phantom can just fade away; but an objective entity must go somewhere—something must happen to it. And if the Risen Body were not objective, then all of us (Christian or not) must invent some explanation for the disappearance of the corpse. And all Christians must explain why God sent or permitted a ‘vision’ or ‘ghost’ whose behaviour seems almost exclusively directed to convincing the disciples that it was not a vision or a ghost but a really corporeal being. If it were a vision then it was the most systematically deceptive and lying vision on record. But if it were real, then something happened to it after it ceased to appear. You cannot take away the Ascension without putting something else in its place.
Lewis draws attention to the physical importance of the Resurrection, pointing out that the Ascension, like the Resurrection, required a Body—a point that cannot be dropped. While the Ascension of Christ is a moment of spiritual transcendence that may be difficult to relate or react to, it is also a material mystery. In other words, the Ascension is as much about the body as it is about the soul. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Dogma and Preaching, “The expression of 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 way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God.” The whole purpose of the miracle of the Ascension is that it points out the way for all flesh. It was a physical miracle involving a physical body that illustrated a relationship that is supernatural and eternal: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Ascension confirms and completes the Resurrection in a way that goes beyond mere symbolism. It has a tangible dimension as it deals with a tangible body. The body of Christ disappeared from the tomb and then reappeared before disappearing again forty days later. It did more than just vanish, however. It was moved. It went somewhere and, even now, is somewhere. It is this second disappearance that gives modern sensibilities some pause, for it is in a way stranger than the first. There is a kind of gravity in the idea of a man rising from the dead. There is a kind of levity in the idea of a man rising into the sky. That such spiritual physicality can arouse human incredulity and challenge the scientific thinker is precisely the point. Miracles are as factual and physical as they are spiritual, and their breaking with the bands of nature must be held as a matter of faith and as a matter of fact. G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy:
I conclude that miracles do happen. I am forced to it by a conspiracy of facts: the fact that the men who encounter elves or angels are not the mystics and the morbid dreamers, but fishermen, farmers, and all men at once coarse and cautious; the fact that we all know men who testify to spiritualistic incidents but are not spiritualists, the fact that science itself admits such things more and more every day. Science will even admit the Ascension if you call it Levitation, and will very likely admit the Resurrection when it has thought of another word for it.
Chesterton agrees—the miracle of the Ascension cannot be simply dropped so long as man is material. The promise of extraordinary exaltation and supernatural splendor is not simply a matter of spiritual consequence, but a matter of physical consequence as well. Though Jesus’ body was glorified at the moment of the Resurrection beyond the normal experience of nature, He retained a body that was still in some veiled way like the body He had. There was certainly a different bodily relation that Jesus possessed with things like time and space, yet He was not outside of them. Though He did come and go at times like a specter, Jesus was sure to show His disciples that He was not spectral, as Lewis noted. He proffered His hands to His friends to touch and hold, for their eyes to see and believe. He ate and drank with them. He was flesh and blood. There was clear and careful intention in ascertaining these physical facts for the sake of the spiritual fact that was soon to follow.
From Annunciation to Ascension, there is a concrete side to the Incarnation that is harder to accept than the mystical character of Our Lord’s miracles. As Our Lady showed, however, it requires faith to hold that with God nothing is impossible, even though some things might seem implausible. Though the modern mind may struggle to believe the story of a Man ascending into a heaven somewhere on high where, as the Son of God, He sits on a celestial seat at the right hand of God the Father, this is the challenge of reconciling faith with facts. The support of reason is present given the common sense involved in communicating a physical promise to physical creatures, but there must always be something obscure in the realm of faith.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ is not simply a glorious finale of the story of human salvation, but a glorious beginning. In His departure from earth, Our Lord came to man as never before. By the mystery of the Ascension, Jesus gave his Church a miraculous sign that He is not far, and that the human body that houses the human spirit is something that belongs with God. As Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote concerning the significance of Our Lord’s bodily Ascension, “[Christ’s] intercession consists in this, that He perpetually exhibits himself before the eternal Father in the humanity which He had assumed for our salvation: and as long as He ceases not to offer Himself, He opens the way for our redemption into eternal life.”
Even though logicians (and theologians, for that matter) can demonstrate that heaven cannot be reached by a flight through the clouds, it does not render the Ascension account embarrassing or isolating. People need solid symbols and signs. They need to connect an ever-present, infinite God to the ever-present, infinite sky. The way of redemption exists for people living in the world, not for disembodied souls. It is outward yet inward, with defined margins and divine mysteries. Man requires bodily things to draw him to the divine. He needs incarnations just as he needed the Incarnation. The Word Made Flesh, therefore, operates in ways consistent with the principle of accord between the physical and spiritual, and this is the reason why we cannot simply drop the Ascension story.
I am Garret van Beek the athletic director and head coach for the Highlanders.
As I know you are very well aware, the Highlanders have brought home the 2017 Pennsylvania State Championship Title for Boys High School rugby. Gregory the Great Academy is the best and most successful team in this state, and this was achieved by your sons.
(pictured right: Coach Garret van Beek with 2017 rugby captain Jack Davis)
This is true if your son was the captain, which meant he had to be the decision maker and both friend and leader of his fellow men on the field of battle; if he was a starter, earning his jersey and number, in order to leave it in a better place; if your son was a substitute, charged with the difficult task of always being prepared to come into a match at any time: if he was a junior varsity player, building up the team and fostering the courage to challenge the varsity players, knowing that it is the only way the varsity will be successful on the weekend; if your son was a manager, staying up late in the evenings to have food ready for the players, and doing countless nitty gritty and tiresome duties; if he was a touch judge, helping to officiate the match, and therefore not being able to watch the match in leisure; if he was a water-boy, running on the field to give players the hydration they need, knowing they were too focused on the match to say a thank-you; if he was an enthusiastic and passionate fan and supporter, chanting the Academy’s very own Haka developed by former player and coach Brendan Landell; if he was the bagpiper, waking the student body up with their music and encouraging them during the match; or if your son was the President, Founder, and Sole-Member of the Highlander’s Audio Visual Club, supplying the coaches and players with video for analysis.
A tremendous amount of work was done to get the trophy within the walls of this building we now call home.
For those who never saw our previous location in the Poconos: imagine that we had two fields – yes two fields – but only twice the size of this refectory, which equals about a ¼ of a standard rugby pitch. To state the obvious—it had its challenges and required some ingenuity from both coaches and players.
We pushed and encouraged this team to strive for excellence in the smallest of details such as micro movements in passing. The students developed and strengthened their bodies in the weight room to prevent injuries, slamming tractor tires with sledgehammers. We taught them mental fortitude through such exercises as a trip to the stream for a quick dip in the cold months of March. We told them to dream big: and they did, bringing home the PA state title. We created an environment for self-reflection and honesty through preparation note taking and mini-group discussions. This team was selfless, playing this beautiful game not for themselves but for their brother, the school, and ultimately for the Lord.
There is an extra quality this team has developed over the past few years and which has come to fruition this 2017 season. Rugby – and life – does not always happen as expected. To be successful on the field and beyond, therefore, I had to intellectually turn over much control of the team to the players themselves. We would stop practice or video analysis and give players the opportunity to talk, discuss, and strategize about the problem that lay in front of them that needed solving. This demanded the players be open, honest— sometimes brutally honest with their peers – and to make demands and concessions for the greater good.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, as the saying goes. This season is a testament to the players for putting their trust in the coaching staff, and most importantly in each other.
I hope that you never forget the feeling you had when the final whistle sounded and you were crowned champions. Seeing Aidan Hoffbauer jump for joy with his hands not in his pockets for once, but straight up in the air, says it all. This state title is well deserved and I look forward to telling the story of this season to future Highlanders – as well as hearing the stories spread from student to student, especially when it gets to the point where Vincent Duhig was 6’4” and 230lbs!
I speak for myself and for the rest of the faculty and staff and those that have represented the Academy in past years when I talk about the great admiration we have for this team. This admiration is evident in the number of alumni both old and young that came to watch you beat the number #1 ranked Cumberland Valley. I thank you and am proud of all of you.