Up to heaven, down to earth
I was recently listening to a presentation on some of the great Old Testament figures by Bishop Robert Barron. I was particularly intrigued when he was talking about Jacob, especially his thoughts on Jacob’s Ladder. I never really understood that image of angels ascending and descending. It’s such an otherworldly image. Bishop Barron’s insights sent me on a journey of rediscovering the ways I have encountered God throughout my life.
We are in the middle of the Easter season. The truths of Jesus’ death and resurrection are most likely well planted in our hearts and minds, but that doesn’t mean they do not deserve deep reflection and consideration. One way to do this is to take some time to reflect on the ways the power of the resurrected Jesus has transformed our lives.
Bishop Barron explained that the angels that are going up and down are, in a way, a symbolism of heaven opening and something of God coming down and something of us going up. Then he connects this ancient vision of Jacob to Jesus. In the Paschal Mystery, Jesus becomes Jacob’s Ladder, for God Himself came down (not just “something of God”), took human form, and then took humanity back up to heaven.
Thus, Jesus is now the conduit of the power of God, and this “living Jacob’s Ladder” is the means of our initial and continued conversion; meaning that, for most of us, at some point in our life the heavens opened, God came down in a very personal way, and we sent something of us back up. Bishop Barron then posed the question that started my journey back in time. He asked: What for you was Jacob’s Ladder? What was a moment in your life where the angels of God were ascending and descending to you?
Upon reflection, a couple of circumstances in which I have encountered God came to mind. The first was moving to Texas as a 16-year-old. This was life altering for my teenaged self, but I got connected to Church quickly and my youth ministry experiences introduced me to God in new and deep ways.
Meeting my wife while on vacation in Germany was another time when I felt the heavens open and God’s blessings ascending and descending. Early in our marriage we experienced six miscarriages in two and a half years and at the time, the ascending and descending blessings did not feel the same. But as time went on, we both came to see that God was sending down healing and carrying up our sorrow.
I would encourage you to find a time of quiet to reflect on your life and remember when the heavens opened up and something of God came down and touched you, and you gave something of yourself to God. If no specific moment comes to mind, perhaps reflect on how God has been there through the ups and downs, maybe in unseen ways. Also, be open to the reality that God never tires of opening heaven to shower love and mercy down upon us.
This last year has been one that has kept many of us away from one of the greatest “openings of heaven” that happens daily and most especially on Sundays. I am of course referring to Mass. In a particular way every Mass is a Jacob’s Ladder moment. For heaven opens up to us and God comes down in Word and Sacrament and we offer ourselves back to God by participating wholeheartedly.
To be sure, we need to all be mindful of personal safety and pandemic protocols, but the Church has worked hard to create safe environments for the faithful to gather and encounter the opening of heaven in the divine liturgy. At the earliest moment that you can, come back to the altar of Jesus and partake of the feast where heaven and earth unite, and Jacob’s Ladder finds its fullest expression in the Eucharist.