[Homily. Feast of the Assumption. Aug. 15, 2022.]
It is a mystery that God made the history of salvation dependent on the consent of a young virgin from Nazareth, Mary, who was already betrothed to a just man, named Joseph. But that was the case, a mystery of how much God values human freedom and consent. Without Mary’s fiat, Jesus, the Savior, would not have been born. Without our consent, God does not save us.
Having given her consent, Mary watched Jesus grow in wisdom, age and grace. But not without suffering. Early on, in the temple, the holy man, Simeon, had told her that the Child in her arms was destined “for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that would be opposed” and that a sword would pierce her soul. (Lk 2:34-35)
When Jesus was older, and Mary and Joseph had brought him to the Temple of Jerusalem, the Temple of His Father, he made it clear to them he would be given to the work of His Father, and that they should not be surprised if he separated himself from them in order to do his Father’s business (cf. Lk 2:41-59). Yet, until his public ministry, he remained subject to them as he grew in wisdom, age and grace.
Later, in the height of his public ministry, when he healed the sick and taught of the Kingdom of his Father and so incurred the wrath of the scribes and Pharisees, she would seek his company. He was informed that she and his relatives were looking for him. He, however, would not be distracted from his Father’s business. She and others would be told that doing his Father’s will was his mother and brother and sister, that there was no human relationship more important than his fulfilling his Father’s will. (cf. Lk 8:19-21). “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62), he taught.
What his Father’s will entailed, she witnessed painfully: that to show the depth of his Father’s love for us, her Son suffered death on a cross to conquer death in us. She witnessed that.
How he was falsely accused, derided, forced to carry his cross, was stripped of his clothes and crucified.
At the foot of his Cross, she stood with John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. He said to her: “Woman, behold your son.” “Son, behold your mother.” (cf. Jn 19:26-27).
To his mother, he entrusted all those for whom he was suffering, all those who would believe in him as the source of their salvation, all of those who would be his community of disciples. He entrusted to her all of us. To us, at the foot of his cross, he gave us his mother.
When in death the soldier pierced his side with a lance, her heart was pierced with a sword. From his side flowed the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist – the signs of the nascent Church, the living communion of his disciples that would proclaim salvation in the Crucified and Resurrected Lord “to the ends of the earth.”
Today in the hope and glory of the resurrection, we thank God specially: “For today” we say in our Preface, “the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven…”
In this context in 1950 Pope Pius XII declared: “We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.
She was assumed into heaven, we pray in our Preface, “as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection as a sign of pure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people.”
In heaven, she is a sign of hope that we too, having united ourselves to the death and resurrection of her Son, will get to heaven.
And therefore at the outset of this Mass we pray:
“That always attentive to the things that are above we may merit to be sharers of her glory.”
That we may not be overwhelmed by the cares of this world below, by the compulsions of selfishness, the temptations of promethean power, the comforts of much money.
But that we think of “the things that are above” – of the things that are above our pettiness and weakness: of how we can be of service to the least of our sisters and brothers by uniting ourselves to the power of Jesus.
As Mary did when she had compassion on the bride and groom at the marriage feast of Cana; when they had run out of wine she approached her Son. And even though he responded that his time had not yet come, she instructed the servants “Do whatever he tells you.” He instructed them to fill to the brim six stone water jars, each holding 20-30 gallons. Later the stewards observed with astonishment, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine… But you have kept the good wine until now.” (cf. Jn. 2:1-11, esp. 5.10.)
Mary continues to do this. That is part of our rejoicing and gratitude today as we praise God for her being in heaven not only for herself but also for us. She continues to be our mother in heaven, Jesus’ gift to us from his cross, who helps us in the power of her Son. For “never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided” (Memorare).
That we know from our experience. When we asked her for help, she helped. All of us, I am sure, can recall instances in our lives when we called on her for help, and in the power of her Son, she helped. Like when on the steps of her basilica in Naga, she helped my mother and father, long estranged from each other, to come together in reconciliation before they passed away. So let us praise the Lord for our Mother assumed into heaven who continues to pray for us. In meeting the challenges of this world, may we never lose sight of the hope undying – dulling the sting of death – of joining her in heaven.