Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Back when I was in college I had an art history class that met at 8:00am.  I both looked forward to the class and I dreaded it: why?  Because I loved looking at slides of art for an hour and half two days a week.  But I knew how hard it was to sit in the dark and try to stay awake. 

 Fast forward to 1998.  I was in France to study fresco painting and while there visited my cousin Norbert and his family in Alsace.  He took me to see the Gothic Cathedral in Strasbourg and while we were standing outside the cathedral, Norbert, who is a Protestant, (as are the rest of the Rohrbachers in France) asked me, as a Catholic, to explain the Catholic belief in the Assumption of Mary.  He asked me, how could Pope Pius XII, in 1950, just up and declare that Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul?

 So I explained to him the great antiquity of the Church’s belief that Mary was the first-fruits of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, that just as she bore Christ bodily in to the world, in the Assumption she was borne bodily into heaven.  But he said, where is that in scripture?  I replied that there wasn’t a scriptural account of her death and assumption, but that the Christian tradition bore witness to her assumption into heaven.  “Tradition” he asked?  Yes, I said, we see the Church’s ancient belief in the mystery of Mary’s assumption in its meditation on scripture, in liturgy, the lives of the saints and in sacred art. 

 “Art?” he said.

Assumption of Mary (Strasbourg Cathedral)
 It was at that moment that I turned my head slightly and noticed that behind us was an enormous bas-relief carved on the outside of the cathedral.  It looked very familiar (I guessed I had managed to stay awake for that class, at least) .  I said, “Yes, Christian art testifies to Christian doctrine, it is part of tradition.  As in this exquisite 1000 year old sculpture to our right of the Assumption of Mary.”

 What was impressive to me – that the Church has celebrated this feast in honor of the Virgin Mary from very first centuries after Christ – I’m not sure convinced  my cousin.  We looked at that sculpture, we looked at sacred scripture and sacred tradition with very different eyes.  If I only had a special pair of glasses that would help him see what I see.

Does anybody remember the movie “It Came From Outer Space!”?  The movie wasn’t all that memorable, but it was shown in 3D, and the movie poster promised that in 3D Vision! this otherwise pedestrian science fiction film would be: Amazing! Exciting! Spectacular!  

3D movies, (which have made a comeback in a big way recently) were a shortlived fad during the 1950’s .  What made the film appear 3D were the cardboard glasses (issued to each paying customer) which enabled them to see the film in three-dimensions.

What, you might ask, do 3D movies and those goofy 3D glasses have in common with the feast of the Assumption which we are celebrating today?  This: to fully understand today's scripture readings in relation to today’s feast, we need our own 3D glasses to bring out dimensions of the sacred text that might otherwise escape our notice.

 We need to put on the ‘glasses’ of typology that enable us to see Mary’s assumption
into heaven body and soul, not only or even primarily as a historical event unique to the person of Mary but as a type, as an image of what God has already accomplished
and will accomplish in the Church in its pilgrimage of faith and what God has accomplished and will accomplish in the lives of each one of us.

On this feast day, we affirm and celebrate this Christian mystery: that after her death,
Mary entered body and spirit into the resurrected life of her Son.  We believe that the one who by God’s grace and favor was the Theotokers, the Godbearer, who bore God in the flesh into this world, was herself, in the flesh, by God’s grace and favor, borne by God
into the life of the world to come.

If things simply ended there, as a special privilege afforded by Jesus to his Mother,
then the Assumption would not merit that much attention.   But we celebrate this feast as a major holy day, a holy day of obligation, in fact, precisely because what happened to Mary
is significant, not only for herself but is significant for the Church
and for every disciple.

St. Paul teaches us  that Christ is the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep in death:
having put all enemies under his feet,  Christ has triumphed over the last enemy,
death, which has been destroyed. All who belong to him,  beginning with Mary,
share in the resurrection of Jesus.

 Mary, the Godbearer, the living ark of the covenant, the dwelling place of the living God,
is a great sign appearing before us today,  the great sign appearing in the sky,  the woman, clothed in the sun, crowned with stars and with the moon under her feet.

With the resurrection of Jesus God’s temple in heaven opened and with the assumption of Mary we can see with the eyes of faith,  Mary, the living ark of the covenant  in the special place prepared for her by God,

Mary is a sign for all of us, all of us who have already entered the living temple of the Church washed clean by baptism,anointed with the Holy Spirit, bearing Christ within us
each time we eat his Body and drink his Blood.  Mary’s assumption is a sign to us
of God’s faithful love which has overcome sin and death.

 Each of us in our baptism has already died to sin and death, and are journeying in hope to that special place God has prepared for those he loves.  The great things that God has done for Mary, which she proclaims with joy in the Magnificat, God has done for us. We are blest among women (and men) and all ages to come will call us, the holy ones of God, blessed.
The power of sin and death over us has been cast down and we have been raised up
from the waters of baptism as adopted sons and daughters of the Father.  We will be raisedup, as Mary was, with all who belong to God.   

On the feast of the Assumption, which is in the late summer, just as the harvest
in the northern hemisphere is beginning to come in, we celebrate the rich harvest
of Christ’s resurrection actualized in Mary, in the Church, his Body, and in all of the baptized.

On this feast of the Assumption, let us, like Mary, praise and thank with joy, our faithful God, who has done such great things, for Mary and for all who belong to him.