The Ascension and the Apostolate

Imagine having an aerial view of the Apostles just after the Ascension. The Eleven, accompanied by other disciples, were looking up to heaven, seeing nothing in the spring skies of Judea but a faint speck: the cloud upon which their Master had ascended. The blessed Object of their staring was gone from view, but they were still trying to see Him. The group was possessed of that loud silence of a crowd whose minds are lost in wonderment as their senses have just been collectively shocked. When the silence is broken, it is by two angels who had appeared unnoticed during the Ascension: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

What mixed emotions they must have been feeling! How they were consoled by the Master’s presence for those forty blessed days since the Resurrection, and now they would be without Him! It suddenly dawned on them what Jesus had meant on the night of the Supper: “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You shall seek me; and as I said to the Jews: Whither I go you cannot come; so I say to you now” (Jn 13:33). A longing to go up to heaven with Jesus must have possessed them as the increasing realization of His departure saddened them.

But there were other words that came to mind, words the Word had lately revealed. They were a command, and they laid a heavy obligation of conscience on the Apostles: “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).


There is something in this mystery which is fundamentally Apostolic. Every apostle — the Apostolic College and those in every age who deign to follow them — must cultivate these two seemingly contradictory “Ascension virtues”: a longing for the heavenly homeland and a zeal for the conversion of the world. St. Paul manifested them both in a burst of holy indecision: “For to me, to live is Christ: and to die is gain. And if to live in the flesh: this is to me the fruit of labor, and what I shall choose I know not. But I am straitened between two: having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better. But to abide still in the flesh, is needful for you” (Phil. 1:21-24).

Both of these desires are rooted in charity. Each fulfills one part of the twofold evangelical commandment: love of God and love of neighbor. Because they must both be present, the true apostolic worker — that is, one deserving of the name — will live a fervent interior life. This is what the great French Cistercian, Dom Chautard called “The soul of the apostolate” in his book by that same title. The alternative is what that same author calls “the heresy of good works,” whereby we try to make up by activism what we lack in interior union with God by a life of authentic prayer and virtue. We might also call it “practical Americanism” inasmuch as this heresy against interiority and contemplation perfectly embodies what Pope Leo XIII condemned under that name.

Please do not accuse me of insanity for saying that the daily practices of Mass, mental prayer, examination of conscience, and the Rosary are not too much to ask of a person striving to sanctify himself in the world. There were great men, busy with the affairs of state (e.g., St. Louis the King and Venerable Gabriel Garcia Moreno), who did far more. If daily Mass is physically or morally impossible to attend because of one’s obligations or a lack of access to traditional rites, then the remaining exercises are within everyone’s reach.

The more I work with people in this Crusade, the more I realize the truth of something Brother Francis has said many times: the shallowness and superficiality so pandemic in the traditional movement are the real inhibitors of our success. Orthodoxy is necessary and so is fidelity to tradition, but these are not the one thing necessary. Union with the blessed Trinity through the sacred humanity of Jesus — this is the unum necessarium that the Magdalene had. Of course, without faith it is impossible to please God, so orthodoxy is a prerequisite for this union. But let us not be satisfied with right belief, for the demons believe even as they tremble (James 2:19). Let ours be a faith animated by charity and a charity kindled to white heat by frequent Communion, mental prayer, cultivation of apostolic virtues, spiritual reading, and humble, honest examinations of our sin-stained consciences.

Imagine if all of our religious, tertiaries, friends, and benefactors were truly committed to this! Extra ecclesiam nulla salus would not be a mere shibboleth of orthodoxy, a badge setting us apart from liberals; it would be a goad pressing us on so that we can say with St. Paul, “forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before, I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). Father Feeney wanted it that way for us, and, no doubt, still wants it that way.

Let us not forget that, to cultivate this royal life in us, we have a Mother whom fair May salutes as “Queen of Apostles” on the Saturday after the Ascension. “The Queenship of Mary” is again honored on the last day of the month, on which there is a second Marian feast recognizing her title of “Mediatrix of all Graces,” a title and a doctrine without which (as St. Maximilian Kolbe pointed out) Marian consecration is meaningless.

Our Blessed Lady was in that heaven-gazing crowd on Ascension Day. The quarter-century she had remaining to her earthly sojourn was necessary for the infant Church, so recently deprived of her Bridegroom. She, together with her Spouse, had yet to perfect the work of forming Jesus in the souls of the Apostles. Only then could she follow the path to heaven blazed by her Son.

If we live our total consecration, it is Mary who will form those apostolic virtues in our souls so that we can both look up into heaven and set our hands to the plow of our Crusade without looking back.