Draw me up, O Lord

“The Ascension of Christ,” c. 1340, Pacino di Bonaguida. Taken from blogs.getty.edu

When You had fulfilled the dispensation for our sake, / and united earth to heaven: / You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, / not being parted from those who love You, / but remaining with them and crying: / “I am with you and no one will be against you!” — Byzantine Kontakion for the Ascension of the Lord

In my archdiocese, as in most dioceses of the United States, the solemnity of the Ascension was transferred from Thursday to Sunday. There were considered pastoral reasons for doing so, certainly, but… Sadly, this move breaks the temporal sequence St. Luke offers us that places Christ’s ascension from the Mount of Olives 40 days after his resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit on the 50th and final day of the Jewish Passover season. It also breaks the 9 day novena of intercessory prayer to “be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) that intervenes between Ascension and Pentecost. But most of all I find it sad because it fails to inconvenience us by disrupting our work-school-entertainment structured temporal rhythms that have become strangers to the Author of time, the Alpha and Omega.

Such is life.

No mere exit

The Ascension, as the late Fr. Jean Corbon contends in his masterpiece on the liturgy, Wellspring of Worship, is not Jesus’ “exit strategy” from history so he can leave behind for greener pastures the fallen world that rejected him. No! It is rather an event that transcends the strictures of history as Jesus bears his glorified humanity — utterly transfigured by his divinity — back to the Father whose love sent him into the world to reconcile the world to himself by the blood of his Cross. For us and for our salvation, as the Creed says, Jesus “came down from heaven” to take flesh, suffer death and be raised in order to raise up the whole human race, which is why Pentecost comes immediately after the ascension. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit, sent by the ascending Christ, gives birth to a new humanity by uniting human persons to the body of the glorified Christ. He does this above all through the sacramental liturgy, which is the extension into time and space of the ascending body of Jesus that now abides in eternity. In this way, the Spirit grants us a share in all that Jesus does and is as the God-Man. In Corbon’s words,

The movement of the ascension will be complete only when all the members of his body have been drawn to the Father and brought to life by his Spirit.

Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.” If we apply these words to the  ascension, and not just as a one-time event but rather as an ongoing dynamic reality, we can see this feast as the Feast of Christ’s tireless heavenly labors expended, through the Spirit, on earth in order to rescue and redeem fallen humanity and raise us, and the whole of creation, up with him into the Presence of the Father. Thus conceived, the liturgy and sacraments — outflowing from the ascending Christ — become efficacious encounters with the mystery of God’s laboring love that tirelessly works for our eternal well-being. By uniting us to the ascending Christ, the Spirit shares with us his very divine life and draws us up into an unthinkably intimate collaboration with Jesus’ creative and re-creative divine-human power. Every stirring of grace you sense within, every call to prayer, every moment of conversion, mercy and enlightenment is nothing other than being drawn into the momentum of the ascending Christ who longs for us to be with him in the New Creation wrought by his death and resurrection.

This, in turn, makes each of us joined by the Spirit to the ascending Christ into living extensions of Christ’s immortal desire to draw all things to himself through us. This means evangelization is written into our very being! We who, through faith, grasp the outstretched Hand of the ascending Christ can remain safe in his firm grip only if we likewise outstretch our open hands to those around us. This image reminds me of the troubling parable told by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov,

Once upon a time there was a woman, and she was wicked as wicked could be, and she died. And not one good deed was left behind her. The devils took her and threw her into the lake of fire. And her guardian angel stood thinking: what good deed of hers can I remember to tell God? Then he remembered and said to God: once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar woman. And God answered: now take that same onion, hold it out to her in the lake, let her take hold of it, and pull, and if you pull her out of the lake, she can go to paradise, but if the onion breaks, she can stay where she is. The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her: here, woman, he said, take hold of it and I’ll pull. And he began pulling carefully, and had almost pulled her all the way out, when other sinners in the lake saw her being pulled out and all began holding on to her so as to be pulled out with her. But the woman was wicked as wicked could be, and she began to kick them with her feet: “It’s me who’s getting pulled out, not you; it’s my onion, not yours.” No sooner did she say it than the onion broke. And the woman fell back into the lake of fire. The angel wept and went away.

Christ’s love never tires of inviting every man and woman to be seized by him that he might lead them captive on High to join him in the company of his Father. Hear his voice saying to you,

And human love needs human meriting:
How has thou merited —
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!

Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home;
Rise, clasp My hand, and come! — Francis Thompson

“The Ascension of the Lord.” Taken from 2.bp.blogspot.com

4 comments on “Draw me up, O Lord

  1. phil says:

    Thank you very deeply for the above article on ascension. I find myself in need of cleansing; I confess I am that wicked woman, wanting for myself.
    I wonder, though, had she been delivered from that lake would she not have then been confronted with her misery, and finally have changed? We cannot give what we do not have.
    Regardless, I find within myself a bitterness toward those I consider enemies. It is hard to desire better for them than I know for myself. I have come very far but obviously not far enough. Too much hatred still lurking in the night.

    • Thank you for your candid comment. Very powerful. The beauty of the Catholic view of salvation is that being “saved” from that night, from bitterness or hatred or unforgiveness or whatever each of us holds onto, is a process — for some it’s slow, for others, at once. The key is that every day we recommit, re-surrender our burdens and sins and weaknesses and pains to Christ and cling to hope in prayer. The point is not that we reach completion this side of Paradise, but that we press on and, in the process of that struggle, acquire a greatness of soul we otherwise never would have. And we gain a great humility that the faultless could never know! Especially frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation and seek the intercession of the Virgin Mary and your patron saint. Might I recommend you read the book by Ian Matthews, Impact of God? Godspeed, Phil.

      • phil says:

        The thought of humility humbles me greatly. It is as if to say that until the human mind and heart is rid of self-protectiveness, self-determination, and the fear that instigates them both there is nothing residing within that is worth giving, or better, even capable of giving, to another. Can we even begin to approach truth, (“what is truth?”) as long as we harbor even a morsel of falsehood. Yet, so much of my life clings to unconscious longings for things like recognition, admiration, to be needed, wanted, to be special, to be longed for, even romanced one more time. All of these are built on the false-self.
        As you say we need to re-surrender ourselves, our time, yes, our energy, yes, our money, yes, but even more the admission that many lies continue to thrive in the depths of our being. Ironically, no saint I have ever read claimed to have arrived. We instinctively know there is no hope in this life. But, doesn’t it tease the mind to imagine that maybe, just maybe, I could give myself to Him so completely that I might truly know before I die the joy of faultless humility? It would seem that the apostolic authors expected just such heroic virtue.
        And, doesn’t such an admission that we cannot attain to such heights smack of Calvinism? But, who cares if it does; not me! For me the greatest treasure of life is the sometimes awareness that I can really become pleasing to my Savior.
        Humility is the prerequisite, isn’t it? Thank God I am a sinner for that sinfulness draws me to Him again and again. Even more the humiliation of knowing my sinfulness empowers me to reach toward another. I can see others in a deeply authentic way.
        Sometimes it scares me to speak this way. I hear Luther. I hear Calvin. I hear Knox. I hear John MacArthur, and all the voices of anti-Catholic revolution. Yet, deep inside we long for the same thing. To be whole as God’s intended purpose.

        I will read Impact of God.
        How do I find out who my patron saint is?

        thank you for your consideration.

        phil

    • Phil, I think your reading that book will speak to your deep insights and real quandaries here. Thanks for your eloquent effusion! Your patron saint is the one you are named after (St. Philip the apostle?) and the one you took for a Confirmation name, and the one connected to your profession, state in life, or one you have specially chosen or sensed a special affinity for. These have a special living friendship with us and are disposed by God to have a greater influence in our lives. God bless! Tom

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