Atheists love to catch faithful, religious Catholics on scientific technicalities in order to instill doubt in the back of their minds, or simply to humiliate them. “Miracle #1 couldn’t have happened because of scientific principle A.” “Miracle #2 couldn’t have happened because of Law of Physics B.” Quite often, such arguments from the faithless are based on the idea that the Almighty is forced to act within the confines of the universe’s laws. For this reason, miracles like Christ’s Ascension appear cartoonish to the irreligious mind. Let us therefore perform an exercise and consider what the Ascension of Christ would be like if we apply the rigors of atmospheric travel.
After eating with the Apostles, Jesus Christ told His remaining eleven followers they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, so they could go “to the uttermost part of the Earth” to evangelize. Then our Lord rose into the sky and disappeared into Heaven. So thank goodness He got a bite to eat, right? After all, who knows how long the journey takes between the world of the living and Heaven itself?
After His resurrection, Jesus didn’t just stop by for a short visit. He spent forty days showing the Apostles different proofs that although He was killed, He was alive again. That’s a month and a week that the Son of God spent with those eleven men. If we calculate the numbers, the apostles had access to Christ for a total of 960 hours. He spent all of that time driving home the point that He hadn’t lied about being resurrected – that it all really happened, just as it was foretold in ages past.
When we think of Christ proving Himself to the Apostles, we often think of Thomas, who had to put his fingers into the nail holes in Christ’s hands. He even had to reach his hand into the side of Christ in order to believe that it truly was his Master. Also, let us not forget that Christ had to upbraid His apostles when they first refused to believe He had come back to life. Our Lord really invested a lot of time in expressing the reality of the situation.
But when it comes to Christ’s ascension into the sky, just how real did it get?
The Technicalities of Christ’s Ascension
Our Lord went into the air and went to Heaven, and we’ve been waiting for His return ever since. A door into another dimension did not open for Him on the ground. A spacecraft did not descend from the sky. He, Himself, went up into the air and into the clouds. So where shall we conclude is the home of Jesus Christ?
Let us consider the different clouds. The lowest clouds are at 6,500 feet. Did our Lord enter the doorway to Heaven through a puffy cumulus cloud? Was He welcomed into Paradise by puncturing a dreary gray sky filled with fog-like stratus clouds? Or did He disappear into a forest of stratocumulus clouds? Surely the door to Heaven is not in any of these clouds, for they are too low to the ground, and we would’ve found the gateway to Heaven by now. Perhaps the entrance to Heaven is higher. Did Christ go as high as ten thousand feet and disappear into a “sheep back” altocumulus cloud? Surely, Heaven’s door doesn’t reside in a nimbostratus rain cloud, does it? Where would be the dignity in that? Did Jesus go as high as twenty-thousand feet and disappear into an icy cirrus cloud?
Or maybe Jesus Christ went cosmic instead. Did He continue beyond the orbit of the Moon? Did He suffer from Van Allen Belt radiation? What were the effects of gamma and galactic radiation on His cellular structure? Did the absence of gravity begin to warp the shape of His eyeballs, confuse His vestibular system, and eat away at His bone density?
The above questions are trivial. I ask them rhetorically and with a light heart. Our Lord does not need to manually travel from Point A to Point B the way a normal human being does. While it is true that God does often like to work within the bounds and rules of the universe He created, He is not limited to these rules. Christ had the power to bilocate. He could move throughout our dimension at the speed of thought. While He did live His earthly life by our earthly rules, His works often broke those rules, which is what we call miracles.
In fact, just before His Ascension, according to Blessed Catherine Anne Emmerich, Christ actually appeared to Simon of Cyrene, who was working in a garden. In that moment, Jesus was “resplendent with light” and “approached him as if floating in the air.” When Simon fell to his knees and kissed the ground before Jesus, our Lord signed to him to keep his silence, and He simply vanished right there. Emmerich’s vision also relates how in those days before His Ascension, everyone, including the Apostles, was timid around Christ, as “there was in Him something too spiritual for them.”
God speaks to men in a manner they can understand. The two following examples may help explain the feeble perspective of human beings.
First, the concept of UFOs. Researcher Jacques Vallee has often speculated whether or not the phenomenon of unidentified flying objects is purposeful. Are we viewing a natural phenomenon with UFOs? Is it aliens or demons? What could UFOs be? He states in his book Passport to Magonia that if indeed UFOs are purposeful, then:
… the problem of deducing the identity of the intelligence that generates it is not necessarily a solvable one. … Whenever a set of unusual circumstances is presented, it is in the nature of the human mind to analyze it until a rational pattern is encountered at some level.
I have heard it said that UFOs are like a man pointing a flashlight at a wall. He moves the flashlight in his hand with great ease, and a curious cat sees the light on the wall and chases it. The cat thinks the round light is some kind of an object that he must catch. Little does the cat realize that the light on the wall is caused by a man holding a flashlight, casually moving the light this way and that. When it comes to UFOs, we are the cat, and the UFOs are the light on the wall. We can surmise that something in nature – perhaps an intelligence of some kind – is being used to trick our perceptions.
Consider this second example: video games. In a video game, you typically move a character through a world, you fight off enemies, you get to a boss at the end of a level, and you beat that boss and move on to the next level. But some games have glitches. You can take advantage of warps put into the program by the game-designer, or you can take advantage of a small coding mistake in the game and easily kill your enemies, fill up your resources, or move your avatar on the screen in a manner that was never intended.
Christ could have gamed the system a whole lot. He could have taken advantage of the universe’s “glitches.” He could have fooled us all with a light show and tricked us in a manner that we never could have grasped. Yet God does not treat us like a cat chasing a spot from a flashlight. He does not leave us guessing.
The Lord does things in a way we can understand, and if He does miracles, He typically manifests them in “our language” and for the sake of our human understanding. To speculate about Christ’s ability to deal with freezing high altitudes and a severe drop in atmospheric pressure is to miss the point. Pedantic atheists who mockingly speculate such things are attempting to cheat, stand up during the act, walk up to the theater stage, and peer at a man behind the curtain. They have no respect for the idea that it’s God’s show, and we are the guests.
The Almighty carried out His designs in a symbolic and real way because He loves us. I once had a non-Catholic mock: “The idea that God is operating according to your earthly calendar is laughable.” Yet this is precisely what the Lord does. He is not a mysterious terror. He is our Father. He condescended to enter our world, walk among us, and make Himself understandable. He speaks to mankind in a myriad of ways for different men to understand Him. When the day finally arrives when Jesus Christ returns from the heavens in the same way He ascended into them, it will be for our benefit and understanding.
Still, if I were a betting man, I would say Christ ascended into a low-hanging cumulus cloud.