Solemnity of the Assumption
Scripture Readings: Rev 11:19a,12:1-6a,10ab; I Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1:39-56.
There are times of deep frustration, disappointment, and consternation when you hear the cry We are better than this. I have even heard it from politicians in the midst of wrangling and name-calling. But it is a cri de coeur that can well up in the midst of our own lives. It is the protest of conscience against behavior and actions that are simply not worthy of us. We are better than that. In the phrase of Marianne Moore, it is hearts acting against themselves. Hearts using that primary freedom in ways that subvert their own flourishing. These are hearts that are gaining the whole world, but suffering the loss of their souls.
Those alive to their souls know that life is a gift that comes from a source deep within them, but not of their own making. Their souls are the capacity to hold life’s contradictions without being destroyed by them, to be immersed in both joy and sorrow, to remember the promises of God and believe that what He has said will be fulfilled. The soul can “go to pieces without falling apart.”
When our opening prayer says that we will be attentive to the things that are above, I think it is calling us to be attentive to the movements of the soul. It is not a call to find escape in an abstract or “spiritual” layer of reality, separate from the realities of historical life. We are first called to be attentive and aware of what is really claiming our attention. The media, advertising, politics, and the imperatives of managing the agenda of daily life clamor for our attention. Without realizing it, we can become enslaved to this clamor. It is what fills our lives. Until we stop and question whether all this is really worth it. Is it really worthy of us?
Our devotion to Mary is an expression of our being attentive to the things that are above. It is an attention to what God is doing, of how God is acting, of God’s intentions in our world. It is not merely the heaping up of superlative adjectives or wallowing in sentiment. What we attend to is the beginning of what we intend, of how we direct our hearts, of how we shape our lives. The life of Mary brings into visibility the hidden depths of what it means to be human and how the human can respond to the working of God. During our retreat earlier this year, Bishop Flores reminded us that if we don’t understand how God works with Mary, we will not understand how God works with us, and we will not understand ourselves. The doctrines and teachings of the Church became enfleshed in her life, as they are meant to be in our lives. With Mary, we are living out the history of salvation in our lives.
Mary is the ark of God, the sign appearing in the heavens. How is it that the ark of the Lord should come to me? The heavens are opened and God is present in the world. He has brought to completion the good work He began in Mary. Our prayer is that He will bring to completion in glory the good work He has begun in our lives. God is with us. God is in us.
Solemnity of the Assumption
Scripture Readings: Rev. 11:9a, 12:1-6a, 10ab; I Cor. 15:20-27; Lk l: 39-56.
There are those special times in our lives when “everything comes together.” They are the moments we cherish and remember. They may be as pedestrian as having a meal suddenly be ready on time after some frantic moments of running from oven to steamer to cooler to oven. Or the moment of a performance before an audience of a play or recital which exceeded all expectations after a series of very imperfect rehearsals. Or a child who didn’t seem that he would ever outgrow adolescence now making mature and responsible choices. All the work and effort that had gone into “preparation” never explain the result which seems to carry us to a new level of being. The preparations had been necessary, but were not adequate to explain what had emerged. It was beyond what we could control or predict. When we celebrate these moments, we are not just congratulating ourselves. We are acknowledging the grace and gift that raised them to a new level. A couple celebrating a golden anniversary will seldom attribute their long bonding to will power. A willingness and acceptance had to swallow up and overcome the surprises and disappointments that life deals out.
These moments have the capacity to open our eyes to deeper truths that guide our lives. What may seem entirely “natural” are also signs which can point us to the way the Spirit operates in our lives. Most of what I am going to say is simply unfolding s phrase in our opening prayer: Grant that always attentive to the things that are above, we may merit to be sharers of her glory. Our response to life is pretty much determined by what grabs our attention. In celebrating the feast of the Assumption of Mary, we are being called to be attentive, to be sensitive, to be aware of the movement of the Spirit of God who is the true ruling force in our experience. The resurrection of Christ has made the Spirit of God come together with our human history, our human flesh. What was dead and captive of evil is now an instrument of life and glory. This is the new order, the new creation which lives and flourishes in overcoming the divisions and hostilities that evil spawns. The dragon is ready to swallow up and devour all new life that is not subject to its power. With Mary, our spirit exults in the Lord. The Lord, not as an object “over there”, but as the fount and well-spring of our own life and joy. What has been fully realized in her is still in process in us, but she is the living sign of the convergence of body and spirit which is our vocation as well. Lives that are attentive to the things that are above are grounded in integrity, unity, clarity, and the wisdom that the Spirit shares and communicates.
We pray to share in Mary’s glory because it is of the very nature of real life to share itself and expand in this very sharing. Mary has been assumed into heaven which is the living presence of God—not a faraway place. To enter heaven is to be totally transformed into the effusive goodness of God. Heaven is the eternal celebration of a communion which overcomes all forms of divisiveness and separation. God’s will is that heaven become the recreative power on earth. In the experience of celebration, boundaries are dissolved, distinctions between participants are erased. The whole is greater than all the parts. Gift and grace make us happy paupers, receiving what we could never manage for ourselves. Differences are real, but they all come together in creating a space to welcome what is given. To share is to celebrate, and to celebrate is to share. No one claimed anything as their own.
It is not a question of our capacity (and need) to celebrate, but of our willingness. At the beginning of each mass we say: Let us now acknowledge our sins that we may prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries. Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son is the perfect picture of our daily confrontation with the invitation to celebrate in the Father’s House. The son who had squandered his wealth let himself be drawn in to the feast. The elder son could only stand outside counting his virtues and the injuries to his ego. To acknowledge our sins is to see the incompleteness and misdirection that have overtaken our lives. Not to acknowledge our sins is to remain captive of an unwillingness to celebrate, to share our lives and be known as we are. Instead of letting our lives be taken up into a communion where the Spirit redefines our lives, we settle for private worlds where we define ourselves, construct a image of ourselves which we can admire. Our identity is the remnant which remains after distinguishing ourselves from our environment, our world, our communities, our God. This is a perversion of our capacity and need to discover our identity through relations with others.
Mary is a person who knows how to celebrate. It seems most probable that Jesus learned the centrality of celebrating, feasting and dining together from the human parenting he received. It was Mary who noticed that the celebration of the wedding at Cana was threatened by a shortage of wine. It was she who celebrated the death of Jesus as she stood at his Cross. Everything came together there, where the goodness and love of God refused to be overcome by the power of evil. We share in her glory by discovering our identity in our relationship with her, in celebrating the sacred mysteries of our faith and our life which she has embodied in her own life.
Solemnity of the Assumption
[Scripture Readings: Rev. 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab; 1 Cor 15:20-26; Lk 1:39-56 ]
In a homily for this feast day pope Benedict XVI quotes St. Augustine saying, “Before conceiving the Lord in her body, Mary conceived him in her soul”. The Pope goes on to explain that, “Thus being God's Dwelling place on earth, in her the eternal dwelling place has already been prepared; it has already been prepared for ever.” Then he says, “And this constitutes the whole content of the dogma of the assumption of Mary, body and soul into heavenly glory.” So we have Mary as the dwelling place of God on earth and Mary as the dwelling place from all eternity in heaven; and just this morning at Vigils we heard Pope Pius XII say that “Mary was united from all eternity with Jesus Christ.” Two dwelling places as it were, one in her body and the other in her soul.
To me this is a much richer explanation of the mystery of the Assumption than trying to visualize Mary being taken up into heaven at the end of her life on earth. It is relatively easy to think of Mary's Assumption in time. At the end of her life she passes from earth to heaven. We have famous paintings of the event. It is much more difficult to try to understand what St. Augustine and Pope Benedict are teaching. That Mary conceived in her soul and that, if I understand what Benedict is saying, her soul was prepared for all eternity. This leaves our senses empty handed as it were, not much to visualize. But it can lead us deeper into the mystery we are celebrating.
There is a modern love poem that ends with the words:
Is a description of love
In a modern love poem.
Absence of flesh means the person you love is not physically present. Because of this there can be a more spiritual presence, a presence in your heart. Understood this way absence is a very special type of presence. Mary is indeed in heaven but this does not mean she is absent from the earth. I believe it was St. Theresa who wanted to spend her heaven doing good on earth. Since her Assumption Mary has been doing good for each generation of Christians who turn to her for help.
When St. Augustine said that Mary conceived Jesus in her soul before she conceived him in her body he concludes that this first conception is more important than the second and that we too can conceive Christ in our soul, which is also a great theme of our Cistercian Fathers. However this will not be without struggle on our part. Pius XII tells us Mary was associated with her Son in the struggle against the enemy from the nether world. The first reading from the Book of Revelations describes this struggle which the liturgy indicates took place just before Jesus was born. Images are piled upon images. A women clothed with the sun is about to give birth; a terrible red dragon with seven heads waits to devour the new born. The women flees to the desert and her son is taken up to the throne of God, there to rule all nations. All the while this battle is unseen by human eyes, it is absent from view. All we know is the birth in the cave at Bethlehem and Angels singing and Shepards' adoring, all is calm, all is peaceful. But there is a struggle of cosmic proportions going on in the background.
In our own life we do not see how evil is trying to stop us from bring Christ to birth in our world and the women clothed with the sun is absent from our sight but present in our souls helping us bring forth the new life in Christ. The life span of Mary from her Immaculate Conception to her Glorious Assumption can be measured in years of time but her life goes on now in eternal years, absent from sight but present in the depths of our souls.
Solemnity of the Assumption
[Scripture Readings: Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab; 1 Cor 15:20-26; Lk 1:39-56]
Every once in a while you read about people who camp out overnight so they can be first in line when tickets for the World Series go on sale. The overnight wait does not bother them because of the anticipation of seeing the game.
Personally, I hate t wait in line for anything. But, waiting is part of life. We wait at the doctors office, we wait in the airport, we wait in traffic, we wait by the phone to hear if a loved one arrived safely. Above all we wait for the results of the biopsy. We wait with dread or with joy depending on what we are anticipating.
Speaking about sharing in Christ’s resurrection, St. Paul tells us today that, “we must wait our turn”, or as our translation has it, “ …in Christ all shall be brought to life, but each in proper order.” St. Paul is describing life as a long wait. Our turn to pass through death to life will come, when, no one knows, but it will come. The trick is not to lose sight of the goal, not to grow weary of waiting and above not to get so settled in here that we forget what we are waiting for.
Sharing fully in Christ’s resurrection seems a long way off and there are pressing needs right at hand. Everyday life is not only time consuming but it can be very enjoyable. A serious illness can shake us into awareness we have a homeland in heaven.
Monastic life is meant to witness to this fact. It focuses our attention on the one thing necessary, eternal life. What we do while waiting our turn is extremely important, but it should never make us forget what we are waiting for.
Today’s feast is a reminder. It gives us a foretaste of heaven. Mary’s Assumption into heaven comes as a promise to usa hope to share in her joy. Anticipation means to experience an event before it happens. We do this all the time when we worry. Worry leads to anxiety which is anticipated dread of what will happen. Sometimes worry is well founded sometimes it is just a painful fiction. But it is real in our minds. I think we are prone to the negative in our anticipations of the unknown.
The solemnity of Mary’s Assumption is meant to give us an experience of what we anticipate for ourselves. Mary passed through death without experiencing corruption of her body. This will not be the case for us, yet the end results will be the same for both of us. Someday we hope to be united with our body in heaven. This will come about as St. Paul tells us today, “when Christ will hand over the kingdom to God the Father”. This seems like a long way off. How to keep our eye on the goal in the meantime?
Our liturgical celebration today is not about the past, it is about the present. There is a phrase in the preface today that says, “today Mary is assumed into heaven.” Today, not two thousand years ago. We could even say, today Christ is handing over the kingdom to God the Father. Our imaginations can help us in our prayer. We can imagine Mary entering heaven and Jesus handing over his mother to God the Father. If it is today then we are a part of it. We are living in one world with two dimensions. One seen and one unseen. These two dimensions are made one in our liturgy and united in our minds by faith because faith can “… prove the existence of realities unseen”.