Homily: Fiesta of Our Lady of the Assumption, ’11
As in many other Jesuit schools, Mary is our special Patroness. This means that for the many challenges that affect our school or our individual lives, we go to her for her help. Many of us have learned from our own personal experiences that she is a powerful intercessor. When she approaches her Son and requests him to help us, her Son responds favorably, as he did at the Wedding of Cana. Why not? It was she who gave birth to him, she who raised him, she who stood by him as people listened to him but also misunderstood him, she whose heart was broken as he suffered and died, she who took him lovingly in her arms after he was taken down from the Cross.
Mary’s presence in our lives is celebrated in many images. I spent many years in Naga where Mary is venerated under the title of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. In Zamboanga, it’s Our Lady of the Pillar. In Quezon City, it’s Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. In Pangasinan, it’s Our Lady of Managua. Of course, in Portugal, there’s the Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima. In France, it’s Our Lady of Lourdes. In Germany, its Our Beloved Lady of Altötting. In Mexico, it’s Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Philippines falls under the special patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Here at Ateneo de Davao we venerate Our Lady of the Assumption, Mary, Assumed into Heaven. As Pope Pius XII taught, we celebrate “the Immaculate Mother, the ever Virgin Mary, [who] having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (Munificentissimus Deus). We celebrate with wonder and praise, hoping that the reward of heavenly glory bestowed on Mary for her faithfulness to God’s will, might one day also be ours for our faithfulness to his will in our lives.
In other words, Mary made it to heaven. Hopefully, we shall make it there too! Today, we celebrate that hope.
Perhaps, in our celebration of this feast, we might first revisit our own desire to get to heaven. Do we expect to get to heaven? Do we live with heaven as a genuine horizon of our consciousness, one whose reality affects the manner in which we approach it? Or do we laugh it off cynically, asserting it really does not exist. What is it that we hope for in heaven? For most of us, heaven is not just lore, the stuff of old people’s tales, the ethical come-on for compliance to social mores and expectations. For many of us, heaven is real. It is where our dreams are permanently fulfilled. We all hope for happiness. Heaven is where happiness is granted permanently, beyond anything we can hope. We all hope for riches. Heaven is where riches are gifted permanently, beyond anything we can imagine. We all somehow hope for things beautiful and sublime. Heaven is where we will be overwhelmed by the beauty we see, enthralled by the music we hear, uplifted by the sacred Presence into whose dwelling we permanently enter. We all hope for the good life. Heaven is where life exceeds itself, because it is where all our loving no longer falls short, but reaches fullness, and all our relations no longer falter in sickness, ephemeralness and death, but thrive eternally. Heaven is a moment of loving ecstasy made permanent, a loving embrace unchanging. Heaven, then, is what we really, really live for, what we really, really work for. Actually, it is not speakable; it is ineffable; we really don’t have easy words for what it is nor for what it offers. It is the chocolate bar with hazel nuts that is eaten but never consumed; it is the cup of exquisite wine overflowing and never emptied . The Gospel accounts speak of it as the treasure long hidden, but finally found, or as the Pearl of Great Price, for which one sells all to attain. It is a treasure where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. It is the reward granted for those who have lived a good life, not according to our values, but according to the values of the author of life. For those granted admission, it is “the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.” Who are those granted admission? They are those who have been loved by the Father, and saved by Jesus, and who in the Spirit recognized and ministered to Jesus in the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the naked, the homeless. Who are those denied admission? They are those who did not recognize and minister to Jesus in the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the naked and the homeless. Heaven is “eternal life,” hell is eternal punishment.
Of course it is possible to live as if there were no heaven, or as if there were no hell. Just read the daily newspapers: the endless reports of corruption, murder, robbery, thievery, rape, blasphemy. Their perpetrators presumably live in denial of heaven. There are others who firmly believe in heaven, but choose to repress it in consciousness, in order to continue to tread the crooked path, to live with their meanness of spirit, their deliberate oppression of the poor, their pre-meditated murder of values that bring one to heaven.
All this of course is relevant to our celebration of Our Lady of the Assumption, or of Mary Assumed into Heaven. Heaven is real, and Mary is there, body and soul, enjoying the first fruits of her Son’s redemptive work. She has shown us the way in her quiet acceptance of the will of God, her willingness to say yes to the role she was to play in Salvation history, in bringing Jesus into this world as his mother, in being one with him in his service to others, his suffering , his death, in standing with the disciples and those who would be sent out in the joy of the Resurrection. She is there, loving us as sisters and brothers of her Son, exerting effort to pull us all into heaven.
Because heaven is real, at the ADDU, heaven must be the real horizon of all we do – in our libraries, at our work desks, in our classrooms, in our areas of immersion. We do not live just for the day. We do not live just for next week’s exam, nor just for next week’s paycheck, nor just for next year’s renewal of contract. We are not defined just by the passing and the material, as important as these may be.
We live in the truth of a God who loves us, and who wishes us well. We do not live to go to hell. Mary knew the love of God, she lived this truth. That’s why she’s in heaven.
We live in the service of a God who serves us – precisely to save us from hell. Mary said yes, and co-labored with this Lord working for and serving us, even to the point of washing our feet with water, and washing our souls with his blood. She was his handmaid. That is why she is in heaven.
We live in the service of people whom Jesus loved, and himself taught that unless we serve the poor, the naked, the sick, the homeless, whom he loved, we will not be admitted to eternal life. Mary herself was poor, and served others who were poor, foremost among whom was her Son. That is why Mary is in heaven.
We stand for truth, sometimes even when it hurts. That’s what Jesus modeled when he stood for the truth of his Father’s love and kingdom, and for that accepted his passion and death. Mary united herself with her Son’s suffering and dying, allowed her heart to be pierced in sorrow, but continued to say yes to the will of God. That is why Mary is in Heaven.
We live in the joy of our families, the happiness of our homes, in the sacrifices of our loving. That’s what Jesus wanted for us, as he taught us to love one another and to seek first the Kingdom of God. She co-labored with Jesus in working first for the Kingdom of God, even as in bringing him up she rejoiced in her growing child and worked hard to give him a joyful home. That is why Mary is in heaven.
Because Heaven is real, and Mary is there with body and soul, we dedicate ourselves through teaching, research, community engagement and advocacy to the service of truth rather than of lies, to the formation of virtues rather than of vices, to the practice of genuine love, compassion and sensitivity, rather than of lust , violence or hatred. Because Heaven is real, and Heaven ultimately is God, we commit ourselves to a world which resembles heaven more than hell, where the evidence of God’s love and goodness predominates over the evidence of the devil’s hatred and destructiveness. We commit ourselves thoughout our lives to give evidence of God’s love and goodness. In this manner we live in the hope of one day, like Mary, being assumed into heaven. That we celebrate in our Christian life. That we celebrate in this fiesta.