The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Homily: Solemnity of the Assumption (Vigil)

Readings:  1 Ch 15:3-4; 15-16;16:1-2; Psalm 132; 1 Cor 15:54-57; Lk 1:27-28

In 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a belief the faithful had held for centuries. And almost 100 years later, in 1950, his successor Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of her Assumption; and by doing so once again confirmed that which the faithful had long believed.

These two events span the limits of Mary's life on earth. The Immaculate Conception celebrates God's bringing her into being without sin. And the Assumption celebrates Mary's singular participation in her Son's Resurrection by which she was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory at the end of her life.

The two events, although separated by a lifetime, are actually very closely related. In truth we can't have one without the other. And so once her Immaculate Conception was proclaimed to be part of the deposit of faith, it was inevitable that her Assumption would follow suit.

Mary's Assumption is the destiny of all in Christ and gives us a glimpse into what we too can expect when our own resurrection occurs on the last day. As St. Paul reminds us in tonight's second reading:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
[1 Cor 15:54-55]
...all through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Assumption of Mary
And so, through the power of Christ's resurrected glory, we will experience complete and perfect union with God in a glorified state, just as Mary experiences it now as a result of her Assumption.

Why did God do this for Mary? Why did He assume her, body and soul, into His heavenly presence? We can't say for sure, because the Assumption's a mystery; we'll never fully understand it. But we can understand it partially, and say with some assurance that Mary's Assumption occurred because, as the Mother of Jesus Christ, she's also the Mother of God.

This, too, was taught by the Church from its earliest years. Mary had been called Theotokos - the God-bearer -- since at least the third century, and was officially proclaimed the Mother of God by the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. That Council proclaimed that her body, her immaculate body, a body conceived without sin, held the Incarnate Body of God Himself. This was also a proclamation about Jesus, confirming both His divine and human nature.

Mary, Ark of the Covenant
This understanding of Mary as "God-bearer" is foreshadowed in today's Old Testament reading. The Ark of the Covenant was the mark of God's intimate presence among His people. In the same way, the Church calls Mary the "Ark of the New Covenant" for it was she who carried the Messiah, she who was God's sacred vessel.

Just as King David leapt and danced in front of the Ark as it was carried into Jerusalem, so too does the unborn John the Baptist leap and dance in his mother's womb when he first encounters Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant. Because Christ has this absolutely unique relationship with the body of Mary, His Mother, at the end of her life she is glorified, both body and soul.

Mary is Mother many times over: Mother of God, Mother of us all, and Mother of the Church, the symbol of what we all should be. Today, therefore, we celebrate Mary, Theotokos, Mother of God, and Our heavenly Mother. But she's more than that, more than our Mother. She's also our sister, a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ.

But as the perfect disciple, she shows us how to live the Christian life, a model of faith and hope. Mary is among "the first-fruits" that Paul speaks of, the first-fruits of "all those who belong to Jesus" [1 Cor 15:23] and who share in his triumph.

In today's Gospel passage, Jesus isn't downplaying His Mother's role - just the opposite. For Mary is doubly-blessed, not only as the Mother of Jesus, but also as the perfect disciple who hears the word of God and observes it. Jesus is simply telling that woman who confronts Him in the street that she, too, can be one of His family. It's better, He tells her, to belong to His spiritual family than to His earthly family.

The Visitation: Mary and Elizabeth

Mary is blessed on both counts. She is His true mother, the God-bearer, the Ark of the New Covenant. But she's also the one who hears and keeps the word of the Lord...and does so in perfect humility.

Yes, Mary is the first and the best disciple of Jesus, something that Elizabeth proclaimed when Mary visited her: "Blessed are you among women..." [Lk 1:42] and John "leaped in her womb" [Lk 1:44]. In all humility Mary responded, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior" [Lk 1:46]. All three, Mary, Elizabeth and John, are filled with the Holy Spirit; filled too with joyful anticipation of God fulfilling His promise of a Savior.

How fitting a reminder to us today that Jesus Christ was greeted first by a baby in the womb, an unborn infant who pointed to the Incarnation as the Holy Spirit revealed the presence of the King to be born.

This is the power of the Holy Spirit; He is God's gift, enabling us to experience the indwelling presence of God and the power of his kingdom. Through the Holy Spirit God reigns within us.

From all this we learn that God visits us in the ordinariness of our lives, and remains with us in all we do. He is the presence that holds us up. As St. Paul reminded the philosophers of Athens, and as the liturgy instructs us: "in Him we live and move and have our being" [Acts 17:28].

It's through these encounters with God, these encounters that occur in the midst of our day-to-day lives, that we are saved by God's tender mercies. As our model of faith and hope, Mary shows us all this and more.

She accepted her mission with uncompromising faith and obedience.

She acted with unwavering trust because she believed God would fulfill the word he had spoken.

Mary fulfills the dreams and hopes of all as she proclaims: God exalts the lowly and he fills the hungry.

Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is ever ready to renew our faith in God's promises and make us strong in love for God and our neighbor.

Today, as we experience God's indwelling presence in the Eucharist, let's remember that Mary was the very first to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. As Gabriel said to her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" [Lk 1:35]. And like Mary, it is through the power of the Spirit that we receive within us the Eucharistic Presence of her Son, for the Glory of the Father.

And today, especially today, let us ask our Mother Mary to intercede for us with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Ask her to pray for our world, a world that has forgotten God, and world that has replaced peace with violence, replaced love with hate, replaced hope with despair. Ask her to intercede, to plead for a global healing that will bring all to Jesus Christ.

Praised be Jesus and forever.

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