Being pulled - and pulling others - into heaven
After the Ascension, Jesus left us a specific role
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
We've all seen paintings of the Ascension: the mountain, clouds, rays of light, the adoring disciples and Jesus, hands raised in blessing, ascending into heaven.
Fr. Edward Hays, an author and retreat director, tells a slightly different version. The scene is the same, a beautiful day on the mountain and the disciples gathered round. However, as Jesus begins to ascend, one disciple grabs hold of his ankle.
At the advice of the Father's voice, Jesus resumes his ascent, dragging the clinging disciple along with him. Soon, more disciples jump on, grabbing ankles, feet and hands. Before long, others join in the melee and even animals and trees snatch a spot. Everyone and everything hangs on to Jesus to be dragged slowly heavenward. Jesus - in Fr. Hays' words - serves as "a giant sky hook."
What a strange way to think of Jesus. And yet, the image can work. In John, before his Passion, Jesus says, "once I am lifted up from the earth, (I) will draw all to myself" (12:32).
The Ascension culminates the mystery of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven and indeed begins it ... Being seated at the Father's right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah's kingdom..." (nos. 662-664).
Because of his Ascension, Jesus can intercede directly for us - serving in heaven as our High Priest - and assure that the Spirit is poured out to renew creation. The catechism adds: "Since the Ascension, God's plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at 'the last hour.' Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way" (no. 670).
But what would a sky hook have to do with Jesus renewing creation?
What does a hook do? It snares, like a fishhook. It drags up, like a retrieved fishing snare. It keeps something from falling, like a coat hook. It even straightens out what is hopelessly tangled, like a comb.
And isn't that what Jesus' ministry did on earth? Didn't his teachings snare people - even fishermen from Galilee? Didn't he seize a dead girl by the hand and pull her back into life? ("Little girl, get up." Mk 5:42). Did he not drag people out of lives of sin and destruction - from the tax collectors, Zacchaeus and Mark, to the woman caught in adultery? And didn't his ministry straighten out sickness and transform it into health?
Finally, his redemptive suffering and death fulfilled that work of drawing all creation to himself. As Jesus said, at the beginning of his ministry, he had come "to proclaim liberty to captives" (Lk 4:18). This mission even extended to those who seemed beyond hope - the dead. The catechism quotes the ancient Holy Saturday liturgy: "Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him" (no. 635). Some paintings of Jesus' resurrection show him pulling Adam and Eve, alive, from the tomb with him.
So seeing Jesus as a kind of divine sky hook may not be as strange as it might first appear. And the Risen Christ, who continues to draw all creation to himself, entrusted those who followed him with that same mission: "I will make you fishers of men."
In Fr. Hays' parable, those who clung to the ascending Jesus "reached down to offer hands to those still on the ground." Together, they all headed for heaven.
That is the role Jesus left us - to help others into the Kingdom. It is the mission he gave when he sent the Spirit, fully poured out only after the Ascension. "As the Father sent me, so I send you. Then he breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (Jn 20:21-22).
"Because the Holy Spirit is the anointing of Christ," the catechism says, "it is Christ who ... pours out the Spirit among the members to nourish, heal and organize them in their mutual functions, to give them life, send them to bear witness, and associate them to his self-offering to the Father and to his intercession for the whole world" (No. 739).
We who are baptized into, and confirmed with, the Spirit now have our chance to be sky hooks. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, explains how Jesus gave us his power to draw others into the kingdom: "If you are a member of the Body of Christ ... if you hold someone in love, he or she is held to the Body of Christ ... Unless that someone actively rejects your love and forgiveness (lets go of your hand, in our sky hook analogy), she or he is sustained in
salvation. And this is true even beyond death."
We can, - through the power of Christ and in the Spirit - pull each other into heaven.
As Vatican II told us, "(E)very lay person... is at once the witness and the living instrument of the mission of the Church itself" (Lumen Gentium, no. 33). We have become living sky hooks who, through our lives of faith and service, link others to Jesus Christ, who is drawing all people into the eternal Kingdom of God's love and mercy.
(Sources: Vatican II's "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church"; Catechism of the Catholic Church; The Holy Longing;and St. George and the Dragon and the Quest for the Holy Grail)