The Solemnity of the Assumption
Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6,10 + 1 Corinthians 15:20-26 + Luke 1:39-56
August 15, 2011
Not too many years ago, our federal government added a monument to those which decorate downtown Washington, D.C. This monument to President Franklin Roosevelt is a tribute to this man who served our country during the course of a great economic depression and a world war. This monument adds to those honoring other great leaders of our country, such as Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.
All this, of course, is very natural. When great and famous people die, they are usually given an elaborate funeral and buried in a great tomb. Often buildings and streets are named after them. Their great hope is that their memory will live after them, whether through their personal legacy or through some sort of monument. But, let’s face it, when you and I die, because we are common people, we don’t expect that we will receive an elaborate funeral or be buried in a great tomb. Probably no building or street will be named after us. Yet we all hope to live on in the memories, thoughts, and prayers of those who are close to us. But the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary teaches us about the greatest and deepest hope that we all share. We hope that we will live not just in the memory of others, but forever with Mary and all the saints in heaven, as we all together as One Body, worship God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The twentieth century is a century in which God has graced the human race with great gifts, gifts which have been taken and twisted to serve death, such as the scientific knowledge that mankind has achieved in this century, which has been used to build and use nuclear bombs. But our century is only a giant example of one of the most basic facts of human existence: original sin. In other words, when humanity is left to its own powers, it constantly gravitates towards DEATH. This is the story of the human race, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the Israelites in the desert, to Christ coming to live among us and being killed for his actions, to our own day. Whenever God has acted as a loving Father, and given us, His children, a greater share of responsibility for creation, we have abused God’s trust by serving our own selfish ends.
It was in 1950, in the middle of our century, this extraordinary century of using good for evil, that Pope Pius XII defined our belief in the Assumption as something revealed by God for the good of humanity. The response of many people in the world was not surprising; it simply followed the same pattern of humanity throughout the ages. Here was God, through His Church, revealing something important, something that could help humanity cope with the anxieties of the age, and the response was to reject God’s gift: many called our belief in the Assumption “Roman superstition,” and “worship of Mary.”
But far from being either superstition or idolatry, our Catholic belief in Mary’s Assumption is one of the few bright lights of hope in an age blackened by human sinfulness. Our Catholic belief in Mary’s Assumption is not a fable invented by the Roman Church, but a tradition that stretches back to the first century. Our Catholic belief in Mary’s Assumption is not idolatry of Mary, but a recognition that there is hope for the human race.
What IS the meaning of our Catholic belief in Mary’s Assumption? What hope IS there in believing that Mary, at the end of her life here on earth, was assumed, soul AND body into Heaven?
We all believe that when a person dies, if they are a state of perfect grace, their soul goes to Heaven, or in another word, that their soul is “assumed” into Heaven. We may very well know people in our own families who, we’re sure, had their souls taken by God into Heaven. This undoubtedly happens with many people. Well, the only difference between these people and the end of Mary’s life is that BOTH Mary’s soul AND her BODY were assumed into Heaven.
Why was Mary’s body taken into Heaven along with her soul? Because Mary was never touched by the effects of original sin, and so didn’t have to suffer the corruption of her body. Mary is the perfect example of what it means to take the gifts given by God and use them completely for good. Because Mary accepted the great gift of being the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, and because she always stood faithful to Christ, even as he hung on the Cross, she was protected by God from the effect of original sin, that body and soul should be separated by death. And so when the end of Mary’s life came, Mary became the sign that shows all of us our own destiny as disciples of Christ, what we have to hope for if we are faithful to Christ. If you and I follow Christ even when asks us to suffer, to stay faithful even when it means embracing the Cross--- if we are always willing to use the gifts God has given us for good and not evil--- then when Christ comes a second time, your body and my body will be raised by Christ, and with our Blessed Mother in Heaven we will all thank God for the gift of life.
We too are destined for great things in God's loving plan. Being intimately connected with Jesus and with Mary, we live in the hope of being like them in glory. This is the blessed destiny of all God's daughters and sons who choose to hear the word of God and keep it faithfully.
We shouldn’t forget that we celebrate this in our creed when we pray, “We believe in the resurrection of the body.” We live in the hope that our bodies are going to participate in God’s own life. Mary has followed the path Jesus showed us. Mary is our hope since we too look forward to sharing the full life of the risen Christ. If we are faithful as Mary was, we will be remembered in the only way that counts. We will be remembered by God who calls us to share divine glory in heaven forever. The feast of the Assumption of Mary should fill us with great hope and help renew our trust in Christ. Where Mary has gone, we too hope to follow.