Sacred Seeing: The Ascension

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

The Ascension

Spend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is your first impression of this fresco?
What immediate thoughts does it evoke about the Ascension?

Read the Scripture: Acts 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying[a] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension of Jesus

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
If you were standing among the eleven, what would you have been feeling? What thoughts and questions would have gone through your mind?

Imagine yourself as one of the apostles in the image. Which one would it be? Why?

Who is the central figure in the fresco? Why is he pictured in this location?

Both the fresco image and Luke’s account tell us that the apostles were looking into the sky. Why? And why does the angel challenge them about this? What does this mean in your own life?

Directly across the nave is the fresco of the Baptism. How are these two events – our Lord’s Baptism and Ascension – related? What do they tell you about how God works in the world? About how he works in your life?

The Ascension speaks to us of heaven, as do the stories depicted on the spandrels below it – Elijah and the fiery chariot, and Jacob’s ladder. In connection with these images, what do St. Paul’s words mean to you when he says that, “our Commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”? Philippians 3:19-21

“I go to prepare a place for you.” Lord, sometimes it feels like I am carrying sandbags. My soul feels as heavy as my feet, which never leave the ground. I cannot imagine being lighter than air. It’s true – I am a child of the earth, and dust is my destiny. But dust and clay and the ground are not the full story. So, today, I look up. I look for you. I look to Heaven. And I wait for the day… anticipating… when I will fly. Until then, prepare me for the place where you are.

O Christ our God, when you had fulfilled your work for us, and united things on earth with things in heaven, you were taken up in glory, in no way parted, but remaining inseparable, you cried to those who loved you, “I am with you and there is no one against you.”
—an Eastern Orthodox hymn for the Feast of the Ascension

A Word from the Tradition
We are commemorating the day on which our poor human nature was carried up in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. Today we have been made possessors of paradise, having gained more through Christ’s unspeakable grace than we had lost to the devil’s malice. Our enemy drove us out of the bliss of our first abode, but the Son of God has placed us at the right hand of the Father, with whom he lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
—From a sermon on the Ascension of Leo the Great (c.400–461)

Image: © The Ascension by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Sacred Seeing: The Resurrection

A few years ago, the Community of Jesus published a little book, Sacred Seeing: Praying with the Frescoes in the Church of the Transfiguration. As we approached the New Year, it seemed like a good opportunity to share this simple guide to praying with the art here in the church, especially for those of you who aren’t able to come and see it for yourselves. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the meditations from the book. We hope that it helps to enrich your prayer life in 2017!

The Resurrection

The Resurrection, fresco by Silvestro Pistolesi, Church of the TransfigurationSpend a few moments looking at the fresco image.
What is your first impression of this fresco?
What thoughts and feelings does this image evoke for you?

Read the Scripture: Matthew 28:1-7
28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

Some thoughts and questions to ponder
How would you describe the expressions of the two women? Take some time to imagine your own experience if you had been with them. What is it like approaching the tomb? Finding it open? Going in? What do you see, hear, smell, touch? What is happening to you?

What does this image say to you about the Resurrection that you have not considered before?

Look at the contrast between the angel and the black-garbed women. What does the contrast of light and dark in this image say to you?

Tradition tells us that the stable in which Jesus was born was likely a cave or grotto. How are these two caves – the place of birth and the place of resurrection – related? Consider one further connection: Emmanuel Chapel is also a “cave.” What does this say to you about the nature of this space?

In what place in your own life right now do you need to hear the angel’s message: “Do not be afraid.” The angel said to the two Mary’s, “Come see the place where he lay.” Jesus said something similar to Andrew, “Come and see.” (John 1:39) What does this invitation mean to you today?

Notice the pieces of rock on the ground. What stone in your own life needs to be shattered so that you can see the resurrected Lord?
Lord, you said that you would rise again.
I thought maybe it was just a metaphor;
something to make me feel better
as the road got rougher,
as the sky grew darker,
and death drew nearer.
But you really meant it –
not just that things would get better,
but that the roughness, and the darkness, and the death
actually had a purpose – have a purpose.
Because of your cross, mine.
Because of your resurrection, mine.
Because you live, I will live also.

“Go and tell them that he has risen.” 
Lord Jesus,
you have asked me to be a witness of your resurrection.
But I wasn’t there.
I didn’t watch them lay you in that tomb.
I couldn’t feel the earthquake.
And I haven’t seen an angel pointing to your empty grave clothes.
No, but you have made my heart your tomb,
the place of your repose,
and there I have seen you rise, again and again.
I am a witness of your resurrection.
Tell me today, who you want me to tell.

O God,
who for our redemption
gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
has delivered us from the power of the enemy:
Grant us to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live with him,
in the joy of the resurrection. Amen.
–Gregory the Great

A Word from the Tradition
An angel descended and rolled back the stone. He did not roll back the stone to provide a way of escape for the Lord but to show the world that the Lord had already risen. He rolled back the stone for the sake of faith, because it had been rolled over the tomb for the sake of unbelief. Pray, brothers and sisters, that the angel would descend now and roll away all the hardness of our hearts and open up our closed senses and declare to our minds that Christ has risen, for just as the heart in which Christ lives and reigns is heaven, so also the heart in which Christ remains dead and buried is a grave.
–Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna (c. 380–c. 450)

Image: © The Resurrection by Silvestro Pistolesi at the Church of the Transfiguration

Yes, and….

by Faithful Finch

This morning I was reading the account of the angel Gabriel’s annunciations to both Zechariah and Mary of the miraculous births of John the Baptist and Jesus.
All day, I’ve been coming back to think about their responses to the angel. They were both initially afraid, but there was a difference in their responses. They both had a question for the angel, but Mary somehow had a simple and solid faith in God’s goodness.

In putting it into everyday language, I could hear Zechariah’s question begin with, “yes, but…” whereas Mary’s question would sound more like, “yes, and….”

Perhaps even the result of Zechariah’s unbelief, causing him to be unable to speak, helped him to learn a similar faith by forcing him to listen more than being heard.


All Angels

By Sr. Fidelis
Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. In both the Divine Office and the Mass, scriptural references to angels and their unique call appear in the day’s chants, reminding us of their importance in our lives! One of the most beautiful chants concerning angels is a Mode VII antiphon, taken from the Office of the Dead, In Paradisum.

“May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and may they lead you into Jerusalem”.

Mode VII recites on RE, with a Home Tone of SOL.  A “clue” that the chant is in Mode VII, is that the DO clef always appears on the 2nd line down from the top, so the RE, and any pitches above that, fit on the staff. Mode VII pieces often have a bright, expansive sense to them because the modal range encompasses pitches that sound like a portion of a  modern major scale. (SOL, LA, TI, DO, RE ).  In paradisum begins with this gentle upward movement from SOL to RE. This movement up to RE appears again on et perducant te (and may they lead you).

Listen to this uplifting chant, followed by recitation of Psalm 114 in Mode VII.  You’ll notice how the Psalm Tone goes above and below the Reciting Tone at the mediant cadence, and then returns to the RE at the ending –  a wonderful example of the sense of “ascending” that can come with Mode VII!

In Paradisum

Soldiers of the Cross

By Sr. Nun Other

Jacob had a dream, and in his dream he saw a ladder anchored in the bonds of earth and stretching into the arms of heaven. There was uninhibited access to the ladder, and angels moved freely in both directions, their invitation to join implicit. But what happens when we spiritually clutch the ladder on both sides, and attempt to climb up the ladder backwards? I ask this question, because it’s how I often live. My focus is on counting cost and failure and the debris I’ve left behind. Why not do as the well-known song suggests and love Jesus, serve Him as best we know, climbing ever  higher, higher as soldiers of the cross.

The Community of Jesus

Saying Yes

By Melodious Monk

Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of the Annunciation, a feast that once again comes wholly unexpected at this time of year.  In reading the story again, I’m struck by two things.  Firstly, this visit from the angel on this March day, not Christmas, is the moment that God entered our world in the flesh; and secondly, on this day that Mary made her famous “fiat” — but she could have said no.  While I easily glide over both these events, hardly thinking more than, “of course that happened, the angel came and Mary agreed, and that’s wonderful and amazing and we love her for it!”

But I would do well to take a moment this week to ponder the amazing and multi-layered spiritual events that happened on this day.  In his book on saints, Father Alban Butler said this about the feast day: “The world, as heaven had decreed, was not to have a Savior till she had given her consent to the angel’s proposal; she gives it, and behold the power and efficacy of her submissive fiat!”

I see in this statement God giving Mary (and I believe all of us) a choice to say yes.  Not a one time offer, but daily, even many times a day we are given “angels’ proposal’s” or choices.  I tend to forget that in all situations, I have a choice for or against God.  On this feast, Mary’s example reminds us that the Savior will come readily after we say yes.

The Community of Jesus


When Heaven and Earth Converge

By Sr. Nun Other

At Christmas, we have the opportunity to dwell in the fruition of this beautiful imagery: Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalm 85:10)  We kneel at a manger to discover a mystery, a holy riddle, beyond human reasoning. He is Mary’s son, entrusted to Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth. He is God’s son, sung to by angels and visited by kings. He is the reconciliation of all that divides us, and, if we follow his footsteps, the one who makes us whole.

The Community of Jesus

Ponder In Our Hearts

By Sr. Nun Other

Advent is a time to pause and consider, to wait with patience as action builds and events unfold: an angel’s visit, a young woman’s obedience, and a husband’s acceptance; a journey to a hostile city, unwelcome and unprotected; shepherds and choirs of angels, noble kings bearing gifts, and a treacherous king bearing destruction. It’s only Act I and we are witness as a child-king is born into the hands of all mankind.

The Community of Jesus

An Advent Search For Quiet Moments

By Sr. Nun Other

Yesterday, I experienced quiet in a room with several people. Each was absorbed in their work, but not isolated from the other. It was an active quiet, and brought to mind my personal Advent reading for the day: Luke 1:26-38, the Annunciation. There is no written proof, but traditionally, Mary is pictured alone, in quiet work, when Gabriel appears. The scene unfolds (at least in my mind) in discreet tranquility, in a quiet village in Nazareth, a quiet event, that will one day alter the course of humankind.

The Community of Jesus

Discipline of Gratitude

By Melodious Monk

One November many years ago, our first president proclaimed: 

“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country…” 

Following in Washington’s footsteps during a difficult time for our nation, Abraham Lincoln said this:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.” 

Fast forwarding to our generation, the late Henri Nouwen, a man who seemed to know and cherish man’s universal purpose to glorify and give thanks to God, left us this advice. “In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint…the choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious.”

Each day, and especially today, we can continue the generations-old tradition of choosing to place our thanks and trust in the loving “great disposer of events” as president Lincoln affectionately worded our creator.  I hope that in some way, my small offering of thanks today, together with yours, can join myriad legions of angels to help guide all of us to taste some inestimable blessings.

The Community of Jesus








Photo credit:  Artist’s depiction of George Washington praying at Valley Forge. (Public Domain)