Today’s magnificent solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven began back in the Garden of Eden. In God’s mind from all eternity, when He decided to create beings made in His image and likeness, and fill them with the gift of His life-giving love, it is within a woman’s being–within her heart and soul–where His love first established a foundation and home. The spirituality of a woman is rooted in the fact that she is the heart of love and through her special and unique relationship with the Holy Spirit (as one who gives life), a woman is truly the example of what it means to be fully human.
Satan knew this. He realized that if the heart of love were destroyed, that if a wedge were driven between the intimate communion of love and life, everything else in creation would fall. So Satan approached the woman first, intent on destroying her heart and introducing sin and death into the world.
The method of demise Satan employed in the Garden of Eden is the same method he has used successfully century after century, and that he still uses to this day to perpetuate a culture of death: subjective truth. God bestowed free will upon the man and woman mindful of the fact that, in covenant relationship, life-giving communion that is freely given must also be freely accepted and reciprocated. Covenant relationship hinges upon our response to God’s invitation to love: a response of complete trust in and obedience to the absolute truth of God’s will. Satan lies to the woman convincing her that she need only trust in herself, that truth is whatever she decides it to be (“the tree [not God’s truth!] was to be desired to make one wise”) and, in deciding truth for herself, she “will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Hence, the woman, in rejecting absolute truth, says “no” to God’s invitation to covenant intimacy and the heart of love is shattered (“she took of its fruit and ate”) while her husband stood by and did nothing.
Yet the God of Love, in His infinite mercy, does not leave us without hope. He intervenes in human history, setting into motion a plan for man’s redemption: since it was through the heart of love that sin entered into the world, it will be through the heart of love that God effects salvation for the world. The covenant of love and life lost through the “No” of Eve, the “mother of all the living,” will be restored in Christ through the “Yes” of Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer. The Old Eve offered us fruit born from the tree that lead to death; the New Eve brings forth the fruit of her womb who gives us everlasting life. Today we celebrate the fact that, because of the dignity of her motherhood and her own personal submission to God’s will at every stage of her life, the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, which is the destiny of all of us who die united with Christ her Son.
In the Gospel, we see Mary setting out with haste from Nazareth to a small town in the hills of Judea, not far from Jerusalem to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth. It is highly significant that it is Mary and Jesus who go to visit Elizabeth and John. Already in the womb, Jesus is showing that urge to serve rather than be served. And, at the presence of Jesus and his mother, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy. Elizabeth is deeply moved that it is Jesus and his Mother that come to her and John: “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” And yet that is what is happening to each of us all the time, especially in every celebration of the Holy Mass when the Lord comes to us and fills our hearts with joy through his Word and in the Eucharist.
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary’s faith and total trust in God was expressed in her fiat (‘Let it be done unto meÉ’), when, even though not fully understanding what was being asked of her, she unconditionally accepted to submit to God’s plan.
Mary’s greatness was not only in being chosen to be the mother of Jesus but also in her total acceptance of that responsibility in faith and trust, accepting all that it might entail. She had no idea the price she would have to pay to be the mother of Jesus. But like her Son she had emptied herself in total service to Him and today we celebrate her reward: her being raised to the highest place among the human race.
“From this day forward all generations will call me blessed.” This is not a statement made in arrogance but in humble thanksgiving to God. She rejoices and is deeply grateful for being chosen for this privilege. Her being chosen is simply another sign of God’s desire that the poor, the weak, and the exploited of this world are to be the special recipients of God’s love and care. Mary expresses this in the last part of her Magnificat: “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things; the rich He has sent away empty.”
In this beautiful prayer, Mary foreshadows the mission of her Son who says those who hunger and thirst for holiness will be satisfied and those who are rich in arrogance have already received their reward.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus, the Son of God who died on the Cross is the very first among the risen, seated at the right hand of His Father. He is, in Paul’s words, “the first fruits of those who have died . . . for as all die in Adam, so all shall be brought to life in Christ, but each one in proper order”. Jesus is first of all but next in order surely comes his Mother. All of us, as followers of Christ with His Blessed Mother, look forward to the day when we too can share the glory of heaven with her. But for now, we ask her to remember us as we continue our journey on earth and to intercede for us with her Son that, like her, we may remain true to our call to holiness as faithful disciples of Christ.
May we know God’s will for us at all times and, like Mary, give our unconditional “Yes” and allow God to work powerfully in our lives so that we may be with Him forever in heaven.
(This homily was originally posted Ignatius Insight on August 15, 2009.)
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