On May 13, forty days after Easter Sunday, most of the Christian world celebrates Ascension Day. Then begin the nine days leading up to Pentecost, the climax of the Easter season. These nine days, when the disciples prayed together in Jerusalem, are called the “Great Novena,” because it is the first, original nine days of prayer.
The forty days leading up to Ascension recall what we read in the Acts of the Apostles: “After his suffering, [Jesus] presented himself to [his disciples] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)
Then, on the day of his ascension, he told them to “wait . . . for the promise of the Father” that he had already spoken of: “the Spirit of truth [whom] the world cannot accept . . . because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17)
The Lord’s “going up” completes the circuit of his “coming down”: As we say in the Creed, he “came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” He came down so as to lift us up; he came into our world of time so as to bring us to his world of eternity. He returned to heaven to “prepare a place” for us. “I am going . . . to prepare a place for you. And . . . I am coming again [to] take you to myself, so that where I am, there you also may be. (John 14:2-3)
God the Son becoming man is the central truth of Christian faith, but apart from his ascension, it is incomplete: God the Son shares our humanity so that we can have a share in his divinity. He showed us God his Father so that we could call God Father too. God rules his creation as man. His providence, which guides our lives, is mediated through a human mind and heart. That is an amazing truth, unique to Christian faith. At Pentecost, this truth “came home” to the disciples and gave them power to proclaim the gospel of salvation.
The value of human life—each and every human life—can be most clearly seen in the light of this gospel. Simply because we are human, we are naturally inclined to value human life—though perhaps not “each and every” life because we tend to judge the value of other lives in relation to our own. But Christ, true God and Man, crucified for us, rising from the dead and ascending to heaven to “prepare a place” for us, reveals our destiny. The “Spirit of truth” who came at Pentecost to be with the followers of Jesus guides us “into all truth” (John 16:13)—in particular the truth of heavenly, eternal life that our creator wants to give us in the end. So, the value of a human life is measured by a more than human standard.
For the followers of Christ, “pro-life” work is about more than making laws to protect human life, or providing practical alternatives to abortion, or even healing wounded consciences—important as those things are. In a secular society—where people try to live without God; with a public square that has no place for God—there is a need for the divine dimension of each and every human life to be affirmed: Each of us exists because God wants to share his own eternal and supremely happy life with us.