by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente Missionaries
Madrid, August 15, 2021. | Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Book of Revelation 11: 19a.12,1-6a.10ab; 1 Corinthians 15: 20-27; Saint Luke 1: 39-56.
Let’s begin today with a short story of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.
In the story, a harsh sovereign asks his priests and wise men to show him God. But they’re not able to do it. A shepherd coming in from the fields then volunteers to take on the task. He tells the king that his eyes are not good enough to see God, but the king persists in wanting to know at least what God does. So the shepherd says, Then we must exchange our clothes. The king is reluctant, but curious, and so he consents. He gives his royal robes to the shepherd and has himself dressed in the poor man’s simple garments. This is what God does, says the shepherd.
Indeed, as St. Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Philippians, Jesus, the Son of God, did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness; and being found in human form he humbled himself, even to death on a cross. This sacred exchange between God and ourselves has been pondered by the saints and Fathers of the Church ever since. God took on what was ours, so that we might receive what was God’s and become like God. We express this reality as forms of union in our mystical life, which we call transfigurative (centered in our soul) and transverberative (at the level of our spirit).
The Assumption is not only a historical moment in Mary’s life. The assumption of Mary into heaven is a wonderful fulfillment of the effects of this sacred exchange. Of all believers of Jesus, Mary is the most perfect. God had preserved her from all stain of sin from the moment of her conception. For her part, she engaged her will and completely aligned it with God’s will. Her response to the angel Gabriel encapsulates this: I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me.
At the wedding feast of Cana, Jesus said to his Mother: My hour has not yet come. But Mary knew very well what she was doing. As we read in today’s Gospel text, before giving birth and taking care of the Child Jesus, she already began to take care of her cousin Elizabeth with care and delicacy, for she knew that the child she was expecting had an important role in the divine plans. Yes, God’s time is not our time.
For the benefit of all who would follow Christ, God has given the Assumption of his blessed Mother as a sign of what the effects of the exchange between God and mankind are: Mary is taken body and soul to heaven. Her assumption to heaven is meant to be a sign of hope and comfort for God’s people on our pilgrim way.
It is a reminder that whatever we experience here, whatever hardships and trials we might experience during this earthly life, this is not the end of the story. If it were, we would be a hopeless people.
In the resurrection, Jesus was glorified and shared the glory of God that was His before the foundation of the world. Because of the resurrection, the Risen Lord is no longer limited by time, space or situation. So too for Mary. Our celebration of her assumption is more than just saying that her body is glorified. We are saying that she is now filled with the glory of God and shares the life of God intensely. Her life is now in God and with God. She is in complete union with God upon the end of her life on earth.
Just as she has arrived at her final destiny, we who follow her too will share in that glory. Mary’s assumption is a gift given by God to all of us who, like Mary, will share in the same glory at the end of our lives. In the meantime, we can be assured of Mary’s intercession for us.
The Assumption represents nothing less than a way of understanding the entire process of our union with God. To assume means to take charge of something, to take something into one’s own hands, and that is precisely what St. Paul tells us with his famous phrase: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2: 20).
Even today’s Gospel tells us how Elizabeth was filled with the holy Spirit as she spoke the words that have become our daily prayer: Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
With these beautiful words, St. Bernard expressed how in Mary the union of the divine and the human is made visible and how she becomes the protector of our vocation:
What a beautiful present the earth is today sending to heaven! With this wonderful gesture of friendship —such as giving and receiving— the human and the divine, the earthly and the heavenly, the humble and the sublime, merge into one. It is there, the most precious earthly fruit, where the best presents and the most valuable gifts come from. Taken up to heaven, the Virgin Mary will lavish her gifts on all men.
In the Assumption of Mary, the Church wants to give a greater foundation to this hope of the resurrection. She was not just the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ but she is also the mother of the Church. In today’s reading from the book of Revelation, the “Woman” mentioned refers to Mary and the Church.
Let us remember that Mary experienced a pain of incomparable intensity: that of a mother who sees her child tortured and killed. Moreover, her holiness is not adorned with spectacular deeds or miracles. Nor do we know of her great discourses or teachings for the moral life. This sweet and reserved woman leaves this world, silent and discreet as she entered. Then we don’t know anything about her. Where she spent the last years of her life and how she left this earth were not mentioned in the canonical texts. But her way of accepting pain and her discreet and obedient life make her a person of the highest holiness. She is the one who most identifies herself with the divine persons. She is the one who can do the most for us in our earthly pilgrimage.
It is important that we remember this in moments of suffering and in moments of helplessness and impotence, when we would like to do a good that we have the impression that we do not succeed in accomplishing. In this sense, Mary is certainly our model. Not only in service and joyful obedience, but also in accepting the divine will without being able to understand it completely; this was not necessary, the important thing for her was to know what comes from God.
Today’s Gospel and the Second Reading are complementary. St. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the reality and meaning of Christ’s Resurrection.
His Resurrection is not unique, but it is the first fruit, which follows the abundant harvest, represented by all humanity.
Jesus did not eliminate biological death: the human body, like that of every living being, wears away and ends up being consumed. He won over death depriving it of its lethal sting (1 Cor 15:55), transforming it into a birth. This is the victory that we sing at the Easter Vigil. Today, we celebrate the liberation from the dead wrought by God in Mary. Let’s celebrate because in her we contemplate the dawn of the new humanity, because what God has done in her is the fate that awaits us all.
Like Jesus, Mary’s body was also transformed and transfigured. She had a resurrected body like our Lord. This was the grace of God given to her to share in her Son’s glorification as St Paul says today: Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him.
Some of us do not quite believe that Christ has conquered sin. Our experience of repeated faults, our permanent attraction to the things of the world, seem to affirm the opposite.
The forces of life and death confront each other dramatically in this world. Pain, disease, infirmities of old age are the skirmishes that announce the final assault of the fearsome dragon. Eventually, the fight becomes one-sided and death always grabs its prey. Does God impassively assist this defeat of the creatures in whose face his image is imprinted? The answer to this question is given to us today in Mary. In her, we are invited to contemplate the triumph of the God of life.
The last words in the First Reading, Now have salvation and power come, are an invitation to hope. Despite the overwhelming power that the forces of evil still flaunt, the believer knows that the dragon has already been defeated by the “power of Christ”; its backlash will be even terrifying, but the head was crushed, as God had predicted from the beginning of the world (Gen 3:15).
In the Vespers prayer, the Magnificat of Mary is recited to keep alive in the faithful, perhaps disturbed by the vicissitudes of the day, the gaze of faith in which Mary has been able to read the events of her life and the history of her people.
Perhaps one of the most important practical conclusions of the celebration of Mary’s Assumption is that we should imitate her in her filial consciousness, in her constant contemplation of how the Almighty has done great things for us, marvelous things that the Lord is contimuously doing in each one of us, his servants.
Let us not end the day imagining that nothing extraordinary has happened today in our life, that everything remains the same. From the forgiveness received to the grace of perseverance, these are gifts that will never be destroyed and that will allow us to do small works of mercy that will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father.