What I see and would like to share here is very deep and perhaps it will not be understood and believed by some. Because it is deep, it is of necessity difficult, and therefore beyond the normal grasp of even those who are spitirual.
The following text will come as a surprise but also as something that is very familiar. It is the fact that some elements of our faith are combined that makes the following teaching challenging and revolutionary.
For the Solemnity of the Ascension we read these texts: “In my earlier work, Theophilus, I dealt with everything Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day he gave his instructions to the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven.” (Acts 1:1) “When Jesus had led them out as far as Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He left them and was carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50-51) As we can see, they seem to allude – as St. Paul did, as the Creed seems to do, as the priest seems to say in the Mass – to our physical sky.
When, however, St. Teresa of Avila teaches us how to recollect our senses in order to pray, she says:
“Consider now what your Master says next: “Who art in the Heavens.” Do you suppose it matters little what Heaven is and where you must seek your most holy Father? I assure you that for minds which wander it is of great importance not only to have a right belief about this but to try to learn it by experience, for it is one of the best ways of concentrating the mind and effecting recollection in the soul.” she is hereby pointing to the great importance for the spiritual life of knowing where God is. But the way she talks goes a little beyond the simple catechism answer: God is everywhere. She seems to point to a specific place. This surprises us.
“You know that God is everywhere; and this is a great truth, for, of course, wherever the king is, or so they say, the court is too: that is to say, wherever God is, there is Heaven. No doubt you can believe that, in any place where His Majesty is, there is fulness of glory.”
Now she starts to introduce us into a new and deeper dimension. Surprisingly, for her this new dimension is closer than we think. She says that we don’t need to travel with our mind and imagination to the holy places in the Holy Land:
“Remember how Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding Him within himself.”
She herself learned this truth when she read the “Recollect” Franciscan authors. That was revolutionary for her.
“Do you suppose it is of little importance that a soul which is often distracted should come to understand this truth and to find that, in order to speak to its Eternal Father and to take its delight in Him, it has no need to go to Heaven or to speak in a loud voice?”
So, no holy places (loud voice) or an alleged “Heaven” above, “somewhere” should be our focus. He is at the centre of our being, not only as the Creator, but as the one who Loves us and wants to enter into a personal relationship with us. It must be said that being in the centre of our being makes Him very close! So in order to talk to Him, to pray to Him we don’t need to make a huge effort. This truth changed St. Teresa’s life radically.
“However quietly we speak, He is so near that He will hear us: we need no wings to go in search of Him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.”
She knows the resistance some of us might have in accepting the fact that such an immense being can be dwelling in us, mere creatures. She knows that some of us will resist this truth, and some might even think they are doing it out of “humility”!
“Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest; we must talk to Him very humbly, as we should to our father, ask Him for things as we should ask a father, tell Him our troubles, beg Him to put them right, and yet realize that we are not worthy to be called His children. […] Remember how important it is for you to have understood this truth — that the Lord is within us and that we should be there with Him.” (Way of Perfection 28,1)
This is the invitation St. Paul gave to the Colossians many centuries before: “1Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:1-3)
“strive for the things above” “set your minds [and your heart] on things above”. This is why the entire Church, in all its liturgical rites, adopted this fundamental invitation of St. Paul in the liturgy of the Mass: “lift up your hearts”! This is why St. John in Chapter 15 shows us this essential recommendation of Christ: “dwell in me” (John 15:4)! Where is the Lord who invites us in Chapter 15 to dwell in Him? The answer is the same answer St. Teresa discovered: “as I dwell in you”. Usually we consider that God dwells naturally in each and every each creature, maintaining it alive or in being. From Baptism, God starts to dwell in a new and added way, by grace, having a personal relationship and communication with each one of us. This relationship is supposed to grow, leading us to Union with Christ and fullness of Charity. Often this new presence of God stays dormant deep in us.
This communication, this mutual outpouring between God and us, can only occur and grow if we know about it and have learned to do our part. God will wait until this happens because He respects the process of our spiritual formation and us using our will. “I am at the door [of your heart] and I am knocking, if you open, I will come in and dine with you and you with me” (see Revelation 3:20).
So what is the true heaven as St. Teresa says? Traditionally the place of God was called the Empyrean Heaven. Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut, allegedly said during his space flight “I don’t see any God up here”. Carl Gustav Jung very wisely said, by contrast – I am quoting him from my memory – that the human being needed to go to the moon to attempt to “exorcise” our mythological psychological projection of “Heaven” on the sky and look at planet earth, focus on it, and on ourselves to really start the introspection process in order to delve deep within ourselves, and explore the immensity of the human being. He didn’t say “and find God” because he is a psychoanalyst and wanted to respect what is not in his area of expertise, but which still pointed toward the”noumen”, those deep areas in us way beyond our perception, but nonetheless real.
According to Greek mythology the sky is called “empyros” meaning “in or on the fire (pyr)”. The heavens and the sky could thereby be seen to be linked in the mind of the human being from time immemorial. What is interesting is that instinctively the sky was understood to be made of fire or to contain divine fire! Fire was seen as the property of the gods! The goal of human life then became the acquisition of this fire – to conquer it.
It is worth noting this psychological projection and fusion between the physical sky and heaven. It seems that instinctively the human being from time immemorial fused the two into one. The physical sky was initially thought to be immovable, staying the same throughout time! This was the stable value and reference one could rely upon. Not only that, but the desirable divine Fire was the object of the desires of the human being. The desire to conquer the Fire, to become like a god! Greek mythology is full of stories about a journey in which the human being is battling in order to go through different hurdles and finally conquer the fire, to become like the gods. The journey shows how brave one has to be and also how much he or she has to “pay” in order to obtain or acquire the divine Fire. (Greek mythology here is drawing very close to deep Christian truths.)
The goal of human life, then, was to try to get this Fire, to acquire it. Significantly, Fire was normally the privilege of the gods. As we can see, from Antiquity, we humans have perceived a very important truth: the existence of the Fire, in the Empyrean heaven; the desire and necessity to acquire it. To localise the Empyrean heaven then becomes another issue. We instinctively, and primitively projected the real heaven in our heart on the physical sky. The two of them were one, and were in the sky. However, we then started to distinguish between both, to dissociate the two, ending up with the idea that the sky is physical, created, and is not the dwelling place of God, of the Divine Fire.
Up to this point we can accept these truths. We can accept the fact that Jesus dwells in the centre of our being, that our hearts are like a divine living tabernacle where Jesus dwells. This is where we are supposed to search for Him and find Him and dwell with Him.
A New Step
But is God in this grace-filled relationship present in us in his fullness? We have not yet been transformed in Christ, we as a dwelling place still need to get back our likeness to God. Let us then turn toward the mystery of Our Lady, the mystery of her relationship with the Lord Jesus. The fact that she is the New Eve, the fact that she is the Immaculate Conception, the fact that she is the true dwelling Place of God (“Behold, the dwelling place of God with men” (Rev 21:3)), makes of her the perfect New Skin, for the New Wine. It is in Mary that God dwells in His fullness. It is in Mary that Jesus dwells in his fullness. Also, Mary is the New Jerusalem. This means she contains everything, all the saints, even God himself: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Rev 21:23) She has hidden within her, all the elect.
The mystery of the Immaculate Conception presents our thinking process with a difficulty. This difficulty affects our understanding of the origin of Our Lady, and therefore what really occurred when the Lord was suspended for six hours on the Cross and when He died and his side was opened.
The difficulty it poses for us is the following: the catholic definition of the Immaculate Conception says that by virtue of the merits of the Lord’s Passion on the Cross, Mary is saved, or even “born” from Jesus’ open side on the Cross.
“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (Catechism 911) “by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ Saviour” means that Mary was really and truly saved by the Lord on the Cross. She is not exempt from salvation.
What the definition says is that she received a singular grace at her conception, a grace of being “preserved immune from all stain of original sin”. The text implies that Mary was saved also by Jesus, but preserved from sin.
The author of letter to the Hebrews talks about what occurs during Redemption, on the Cross, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. He says that, as a result of Redemption, the Lord “enters the Most Holy Place, the “more perfect Tabernacle”, and also we say that He ascends into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father:
“11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made by hands and is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” (He 9:11-12)
“19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way opened for us through the curtain of His body” (He 10:19-20)
But what is this most holy place?
Let us go back to what occurs during Redemption. The Lord says something very deep: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again… But He was speaking concerning the temple of His body.” (John 2:19.21). Jesus’ mystical body is the Church. “We heard Him saying, ‘I will destroy this temple, the one made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'” (Mark 14:58) Note that in the text of Genesis, to express the act of creation of Eve from Adam’s side, the sacred text doesn’t use “created” or “formed” or “shaped” but rather “built”! God builds Eve from Adam’s side. “Then the LORD God made [built] a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” (Gn 2:22)
It is very important to understand one aspect of the definition of the Immaculate Conception. The Church never dissociates Mary from Jesus. Jesus is Mary’s saviour. She sings this truth in her Magnificat: “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). God, Jesus, is in her womb and she acknowledges that He is her saviour. Jesus saves us on the Cross. The difficulty would appear for some in the chronology: how come Jesus saves Mary if He was created before his incarnation? This is why the definition of the Immaculate Conception says clearly: “by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race”. Mary is not created and saved in a parallel way to Jesus or separate from Him, but she is rather totally dependent on Jesus her Saviour. This is why we can say that she is saved by Jesus in anticipation.
So, even if she were created before the Incarnation, she was saved by Jesus on the Cross. If we deepen our understanding of what is occurring on the Cross, during our redemption, we can truly acknowledge she truly comes from the Heart or Opened Side of the Redeemer. Usually, from apostolic time, we are used to considering Jesus as the New Adam and the Church as the New Eve. We are used to re-reading Genesis 2, the creation of Eve, and seeing through it the relationshiop between the New Adam and the New Eve. As a consequence, we consider that the Church issues from of Jesus’ open side. But if we really mediate and contemplation the mystery of the Immacualte Conception, if we meditate on the fact that Mary is the Mother of the Chruch, we have to accept that Mary is the first person to come out of Jesus’ side. She is the first saved person and she is the mother of all the saved persons.
To repeat, she comes first from Jesus, the New Adam, and with the New Adam, they conceive the Church, they beget the Church. And the Church can only be the Church, if she is in the image of Mary, if she is born from Mary, if she is like an extension of Mary. When the Liturgy and the Fathers of the Church say that Mary is the New Jerusalem, this takes us to a very deep level of understanding of the Church.
Being the New Jerusalem means that Mary is so immense, that she can really and truly contain each one of the Elect! By the same token she is the one who can contain the one whom the heavens cannot contain, she contains not only the Head, Jesus, but also the Body.
Who builds the bride? Jesus, on the Cross. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” (John 2:19) Who is the Bride? It is Mary, and in Mary, through Mary, each one of us. What a mystery.
God built his own dwelling place (the work of Redemption). In a way, when we say that Jesus ascended into heaven, when we say that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, when we say that Jesus enters the Most Holy Place (see Heb), we are absolutely allowed to make this very audacious statement: Jesus entered fully in Mary. What a huge paradox! We say He “ascends”, we feel He is leaving this life on earth. Mary is still on earth when He ascends, and, paradoxically, we seem to say, that in fact He entered within Her!
Where is the Father? Where is the Emperian Heaven? Where is God’s Mansion or Dwelling place? It is not a physical place. God in himself is not in a physical place. God wants to dwell in Mary. He dwells in her in the fullness of his being. So, if Jesus ascends to the Father and sits at at his right hand, in fact he is entering in Mary, where the Father is dwelling.
We are saying that the widest place that can contain the Trinity is Mary. She is still on earth paradoxically. She is the true Ark of the Covenant, she contains God, all of God or the whole God. She is his garden, his paradise, his heaven.
What a paradox: we look “up”… toward the sky. We imagine the Father in heaven, we contemplate Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father. But all this is considered as being high up in the sky. In fact, the true new heaven, the true paradise, the true dwelling place of God is Mary. He built her.
There is no other place where the Father is. The Father is dwelling fully in Mary. Mary is immense! She is the true “paradise” of God. As a surprising conclusion, we can safely say that the most holy place mentioned by the letter to the Hebrews is simply Mary: “11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made by hands and is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” (He 9:11-12)
Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, yes. In Mary. What a surprise!
Jesus enters and rests deeply and finally in Mary.
Jesus leaves us when He ascends into heaven. And here is the paradox: He does not go away, He just dwells finally in Mary. Where is “heaven”? It is simply Mary. To find Jesus, we need to find Mary. Where is He seated at the right hand of the Father? In Mary.
Note: To deepen the understanding of the relationship between Mary and Jesus, how she contains Him, please consult this teaching of Mr. Olier (click here).
 We are even waiting from Jesus to come back in glory in the same way as the text says. “After He had said this, they watched as He was taken up, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:9-11)
 What is the Empyrean Heaven? “In ancient cosmologies, the Empyrean Heaven, or simply the Empyrean, was the place in the highest heaven, which was supposed to be occupied by the element of fire (or aether in Aristotle’s natural philosophy). The word derives from the Medieval Latin empyreus, an adaptation of the Ancient Greek empyros (ἔμπυρος), meaning “in or on the fire (pyr)”. The Empyrean was thus used as a name for the firmament, and in Christian literature for the dwelling-place of God, the blessed, celestial beings so divine they are made of pure light, and the source of light and creation. Notably, at the very end of Dante’s Paradiso, Dante visits God in the Empyrean.” (copied from the internet)
 It seems that he never said this but that it was said in another occasion by the then Soviet leader in one of his speeches.