- On August 16, 2013
While a certain former parish of mine is celebrating this solemnity, offered for the repose of the soul of a certain King of Rock-n-Roll, I am filled with joy. Because this wonderful feast of the Queen of heaven is offered to give all of us hope that our souls with rest one day with our one true King of glory. Mary, who is assumed into heaven, shines forth to us on earth, a bright light in our darkness until that day that our Lord comes again. She is a sign of certain hope and comfort to us, the pilgrim People of God. That phrase from Vatican II expresses the wonderful awareness we have today that in our mission as Church, we are travelling on a journey, to a goal we have not yet reached. Our pilgrim road is filled with obstacles, some which come from this world which is fighting against us, but many obstacles are placed there by us, through our own sinfulness.
On today’s solemnity of Mary’s Assumption we are reminded that Mary, although full of grace, also confronted her own difficulties on her journey, obstacles she could not understand, but how she dealt with these difficulties speak volumes to us in our daily struggles.
When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, a poor, scared teenage girl, God’s messenger scared her beyond belief. His appearance, his message, everything about him, filled her with fear. Yet the grace and love of God, already placed in her Immaculate Heart, overcame that fear. What did she really understand about this announcement of the coming of our Lord? What was to happen if she said yes if the will of God? The first thing that probably entered into her head and heart was this: “why me?” And yet when she pondered that question, she knew, somehow, she was affirmed by the Holy Spirit. As anxious as she may have been, the presence of God also filled her with peace. But in a practical way, Mary also knew that in her town of Nazareth, her yes would be troubling to more than just herself. Much like our own offices, schools, and neighborhoods, where everyone knows everybody else’s business, (and this was before social media) where everybody possibly gossiped; she was going to be the subject of a great scandal. Yet Mary held this in her heart, and pondered the word of God, hoping that He who asks something so great from her, would also give her all she needed to accept this responsibility.
Trusting in God, Mary responded:
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your Word.
That act of trusting faith is more than just a blind leap hoping God will catch us. It is not a bartering or trade off with God, saying I will do this for you if you do this for me. It is also not just a one-time thing, where we say yes and then think that God does the rest. It is a faith that needs to be constantly renewed and affirmed. When Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth; it was the mother of John the Baptist that was that instrument of grace that affirmed her decision to trust in God. Mary may not have understood how Elizabeth knew what had happened or what made John leap in the womb, but that act of God strengthened her journey of faith.
When Mary returned, now probably visibly pregnant, she knew that Joseph wanted to break their engagement, but God also reached out to him and Joseph came to understand also. This child was the Incarnate Word, conceived in her womb and written on their hearts through the same grace. When the couple could not find a place for Jesus to be born I Bethlehem; God reached out to them and again reaffirmed their faith by the message of the shepherds, and the gifts of the wise men. When the couple presented their newborn child in the Temple, they were amazed at the proclamation that this child was going to be the light to all the nations. Yet Mary also heard the difficult words of Simeon as he prophesied that Jesus would be rejected, and even Mary herself would suffer greatly. She did not understand the troubling words, but as she did with the blessings and affirmations of God, she held these also in her heart, and she pondered.
When Jesus was a child and he disappeared and was lost, and Mary and Joseph found him in the Temple; Jesus responded to her worries by saying that he must be in his Father’s house. Again Mary did not fully understand, and she placed it in her heart, and trusting in God, she pondered the mystery of what her Son had said. Two decades later, after Jesus had left home, and proclaimed to his disciples that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you must make God the priority of your life, even to turn your back on your parents and family. Jesus stated that anyone who heard the Word of God, and lived it, they were his mother, his brother, his family. Yet His words were not pushing Mary away. But rather, he was really showing to others, that this woman of faith who heard God’s word and lived it fuller than anyone else, she was the model. She is our example. Do as she has done, and the Kingdom of God is yours.
At the end of his ministry, when Jesus entered into Jerusalem, it may seem to us that Mary was not welcomed. Why was she not at the Last Supper? Was Jesus excluding his most faithful disciple from the institution of the Eucharist? But Mary knew this time was for the disciples to have that word placed into their hearts. For we must remember that Mary was already in the fullest of Communion with Christ, having already received His Body at the Annunciation, carried His Body in her womb, and then gave His Body to the world at His birth. In a very real way, Mary is the first Eucharistic Minister, for she gave us the Body of Christ. But for the mystery of what He was giving us, she still held us in her hearts, and she pondered God’s will for His disciples.
And during His Passion, after watching her Son suffer, Mary now stood at the foot of the Cross. She is given by Jesus to St. John and to the entire Church, to be their mother, to wrap her protective mantle around all of us. Hearing the lasts words of Christ, she held them in her broken heart, and she pondered the mystery of our salvation. As Jesus died upon the Cross and his side was pierced with a lance, the prophesy came true, and her heart was pierced with a sword. For the Immaculate Heart which beat for Him, was so united with the Sacred Heart of her Son, that she suffered with Him. Thus Mary, united perfectly to His Passion, represents the model and example of a true disciple of Jesus Christ in every time and every place. In her redemptive suffering, she held the Word made flesh in her heart, and she pondered what her role would be now.
Because of her role as the first and greatest disciple, her role as Mother of both our Lord and the apostles; these men gathered around her at Pentecost, longing to hold on to anything connected with the love of their master. There she prayed with them and for them, that her spouse, the Holy Spirit, would descend upon them and fill them with the grace with which she is already filled. Now filled with this Holy Spirit, they go out to proclaim the Word. Hearing the proclamation of the Good News, again she holds it in her heart and she ponders what these men will do. Just as she served her Son, Mary now serves His Body the Church, letting His apostles and disciples step up to lead the Church. Her work of bringing Christ forward to the world is taken over by the Church, but she remains, Mother, pointing always toward Christ and being the example of trusting faith.
The early Church taught that, when Mary died, all the apostles were present except Thomas who was preaching the Gospel in India. They were with their Mother, and prayed for her at her dormition, as she was laid to rest. It is said that she then appeared to Thomas who was on his way back to join them as they gathered around their mother. And so the same apostle who doubted the resurrection, was then the herald to tell the apostles and the world that Mary was taken body and soul to our Lord. That just as her soul was kept pure and incorrupt in life by the grace of God, her body would be kept incorrupt in death by the same grace. The Good News is that the resurrection is for all of us, and Mary our Mother and model is assumed into glory as our Hope. For now in her role as Queen of Heaven, she places the Incarnate Word in our own hearts, and pondering how she responded to presence in her heart, we ponder his presence in our own, and we are able to trust with her perfect faith.
On this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Mother of Our Lord, the Mother of the Church into Heaven, may our hearts be immersed into the Immaculate Heart of Mary. May the Word that is written on our hearts by God, set our hearts on fire with His love. And pondering the Word that is both Son of God and Son of Mary, may we follow Mary’s example here in this life, so as to give us the hope to follow her in glory to eternal life in the next.