Homily for August 15, 2016Published:
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
We join the whole church today in celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. It is fitting that we gather here at this abbey, dedicated to the Mother of God, the Help of Christians. Falling as it does each year in the midst of preparations for the beginning of a new school year, this feast is likewise a fitting opportunity to seek the intercession of the Mother of God for the work we are about to enter into together.
One thing we should not do is think that we are somehow benefitting the Blessed Mother by our celebration, as though somehow we could contribute to her happiness, add to her blessedness or confer some honor or benefit. For she, having entered into the radiant joy of that eternal life to come and, truly full of grace, the very life of God who is life, cannot receive any increase to the fullness of life and love she has received as first among the redeemed. Rather, our celebration can increase our joy, as we see the fulfillment of what we, too, hope one day to receive. For we, like Mary, have been redeemed by the death and resurrection of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. She, who of all human beings was most closely united with her Son in his passion and death, is also the one most closely united with him in his resurrection, so that, having passed through death, she is the first to share fully in the resurrection of the dead. For if we profess with the divinely inspired Scriptures that God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ…raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6), and believe that in Jesus Christ’s created human body, in which he ascended into heaven, we see the anticipation of the resurrection of our own body, what we are celebrating in the Blessed Virgin Mary is simply the fulfillment of our faith. Indeed, today’s feast is the celebration of those truths we hold and profess in faith.
In the first place, we are invited simply to marvel at this revelation of God, the Most Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is living, creative love. Mary’s dignity as Mother of God, and her assumption body and soul into heaven, are signs of God’s free and sovereign choice in love. Today’s celebration, therefore, is a reminder to us of the free gift of life and of eternal life given to us, through no merit or deserving of our own. We too, like Mary, have received the pledge of eternal life; a pledge guaranteed to us by God’s grace. We have only to accept it and hold fast to it. So often we lose our focus and see only the trials and difficulties facing us. We are invited today to join in Mary’s song of praise: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… for He who is mighty has done great things for me. We are invited today to contemplate and to return thanks for our many and abundant blessings, especially the gift of eternal life, which itself alone outweighs whatever trials and difficulties come our way.
Our celebration today is a profession of faith in the very heart of the good news, the gospel, namely that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, as we were reminded in our second reading. This is not some detached intellectual assertion, but takes concrete form in the celebration of the life of Blessed Mary, body and soul, in heaven. In Mary, the first of those saved by Christ, the resurrection of Jesus Christ shines forth in the restoration of the beauty of creation from the death and destruction of sin. For the Lord’s resurrection, realized now in his mother, reveals to us the meaning of our own life. In the face of the so many things which would try to convince us of the meaninglessness of our existence, of the lack of any real purpose to life, our celebration reminds us that we have a destiny beyond the short space of time of this life. The celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a concrete expression of the profession we will shortly make in making in the Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” In Mary, that which we profess has become a reality. However, in the midst of our busy lives, in the weakness of our sinfulness, we can all too easily lose a right perspective on things. We become caught up in the immediacy of demands which may not really be all that important. Time and time again, we are tempted to chose short-lived gratifications, and we thus forfeit lasting joys. We are invited today to consider our life in the perspective of that life which is to come, to examine our priorities and, if necessary, to set them again in proper order. We are given the opportunity to look at our life and see whether we are living in a manner worthy of the call we have received to be disciples of Jesus, whether we are doing our best to fulfill the vocation which is ours at this time.
Finally, our celebration today is an encouragement to us not to lose heart in our struggle to live our faith with integrity. In our first reading, from the Book of Revelation, the woman clothed with the sun, about to give birth, represents both the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the church. The sign of the great red dragon with the seven heads and ten horns, waiting to devour the child the woman is about the bear, presents for us in vivid imagery the continual and deadly struggle in which we must engage with the power of evil. As the Scripture warns us: Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens (Eph. 6:12). We know only too well the reality of the struggle, realized in our constant battle with temptation and sin. Furthermore, in the world in which we live, evil, always deceitful, can seem to have the upper hand, to prevail over goodness, justice, truth and love. The vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, assumed into heaven and made radiant with the glory of divine life, reminds us of the Apostle’s words: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are a nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Rom. 8:18). Her surpassing dignity as the Mother of God led her to stand at the foot of the cross and witness the barbaric execution of her only Son. Even after the indescribable joy of her Son’s resurrection, the Lord withdrew in his Ascension, and Mary had patiently to endure the trials and challenges of the first spread of the gospel, until at the time of his choosing, her Son called her to share in his triumph over the final enemy, death. Our celebration today strengthens us in our own struggles, and, in the face of the evil at work in the world, encourages us not to lose heart. Mary knew that He who is mighty had looked upon the lowliness of His handmaid. Trusting in His might, and not in her own weakness, she trusted that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled. Through her prayer and example may we be likewise trust.
Let us, therefore, rejoice in the blessings this feast prepares for us: the invitation to acknowledge our many blessings and to return thanks; the vision of that everlasting life and joy in store for all the redeemed, in light of which we can order our priorities aright; the encouragement to remain steadfast in trial, trusting in the power of our Savior and Lord. May the Mother of God and Help of Christians intercede unceasingly for this abbey and college, dedicated to her, and help us make of this new school year a fitting offering of praise to our good God.
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