Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Solemnity of the Assumption 2014
August 15, 2014
Rev 11:19.12:1-6.10, Ps 45, 1 Cor 15:20-27, Lk 1:39-56
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
With the whole Church, today we celebrate the great solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady, body and soul, into heaven. “The Lord has done great things for me,” Mary exclaims in today’s Gospel, and our first reaction is to praise God for all of the blessings he gave her over the course of her life. We see these “great things” of the Lord in her being preserved from all stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception, in her singular privilege of becoming the Mother of God, and, today, in the fact that at the end of her life the Lord did not allow her body to see corruption, but took her up into heaven body and soul. Thus our first response is to join with Mary in having our whole being “magnify the Lord” and “rejoice in God our Savior” for all of these blessings he has given to her, and through her, to the human race.
Our second reaction is to venerate Mary herself for her continual holy response to these divine graces. Mary stated that because of God’s grace, “All generations will call me blessed,” and today we unite with generations before us and after us in so extolling her. With St. Elizabeth we say, “Blessed are you who believed that the Lord’s words would be fulfilled!” Mary trusted in God always and constantly said “let it be done to me according to Your word,” from the time of the visit of the Angel Gabriel throughout her earthly and now heavenly life.
But the main purpose of this feast — the reason faithful Catholics mark it each year no matter what day of the week on which it falls — is to help us apply the lessons of Mary’s life and assumption to heaven to our own. And this is what Mary herself wants to do. Saint John Paul II said in his beautiful apostolic exhortation on Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, that Mary’s assumption into heaven is not so that she can party in celestial celebration until the end of time. Crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth, for her, he said, to reign is to serve. True devotion to Mary means to allow her to reign as our Queen and that means to allow her to serve us as Queen. And she wants to serve us by helping us to become more and more like her Son so that we might be able to enjoy his love and friendship in this world and come to experience eternal joy with him in heaven. Mary is like a mountain climber who after having scaled the heights of the Heavenly Jerusalem now returns from the celestial apex to show us the way, to guide, exhort and encourage us to follow her and her Son all the way home. The readings the Church gives us on this feast day are like a map for us to follow, so that we might imitate her and come with her to that summit.
We could focus on how the readings show us Mary’s faith and invite us to follow her along the path of faith, but we did that last year on this feast, which took place during the Year of Faith. What I’d like to focus on today instead is the courage that her faith in God presupposed and reinforced. This is key because of the way Christians today are under siege. The banner hanging over my head is the Arabic nun, which represents the N for Nazarene,which ISIS used in recent weeks to mark Christian houses to force them to leave or force them to convert to Islam. It’s here as a reminder for us to pray for them and to recall that with them we’re all Nazarenes. We don’t have to go to the Middle East, or Communist China, or North Vietnam, or some of the fundamentalist Islam areas of Africa to experience that we’re under siege on account of our faith. In our own country, in ways less deadly but still very real, militant secularists in our government, entertainment, education and culture have been trying to intimidate believers to adopt a radical agenda contrary to the Gospel with regard to the sexual revolution and to restrict religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Mary has much to show us about the bold consequences that a life of faith ought to have in our lives. To see this, we must unpack a little of what is said about her today in the readings today, so that we may see that she exemplifies what the courage that comes from faith looks like.
In the Gospel for today’s Mass, Elizabeth greets Mary by saying, “Blessed are you among women!” These words, which we say every time we pray the Hail Mary, were not said first by St. Elizabeth. They were actually said twice in the Old Testament, to refer to two prophetesses. They were first said about Jael, who was called “Most blessed among all women” (Judges 5:24). For what? For driving a nail into the head of the evil general Sisara. They were likewise used to praise Judith (Jud 13:18), who was called by Uzziah “Blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth.” Why? For she had cut off the head of the evil Assyrian king Holofernes, who was attacking the Israelite people. Thus when Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, referred to Mary as “blessed among all women,” she was referring to her implicitly as one of those heroic women who had overcome the great enemies of God and the Israelites. In Mary’s case, this enemy she defeated was Satan himself, whose head she and her Son would strike with their feet (cf. Gen 3:15-16) through the redemption wrought by her Son. She, like Jael and Judith, was a simple, young woman — not powerful in a physical or worldly sense — whom God raised up to thwart his mighty enemies.
We see this fulfillment in the first reading from the Book of Revelation. Here we see the great battle between two combatants. We see a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, whose tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky. On the other side, we see a woman clothed with the Son, with the moon under her feet, surrounded by 12 stars, who was about to give birth. This dragon, who wanted to kill her Son when he was born, was a constant factor in Mary’s life just as he was in the life of that Son and has been in the life of the all Mary’s sons and daughters in the history of the Church. But unlike the Old Eve, the new Eve renounced Satan, all his evil works and all his empty promises. She had a perpetual enmity for him and became a partner of her Son in the dragon’s eventual and definitive defeat.
Last year, Pope Francis picked up on this theme of the battle going on and Mary’s role in leading and inspiring us how to join her in victory. She is, he implied, like a mamma bear protecting us and showing us how to stay safe from the evil one. “The passage from Revelation,” Pope Francis commented, “presents the vision of the struggle between the woman and the dragon. The figure of the woman, representing the Church, is, on the one hand, glorious and triumphant and yet, on the other, still in travail. And the Church is like that: if in heaven she is already associated in some way with the glory of her Lord, in history she continually lives through the trials and challenges which the conflict between God and the evil one, the perennial enemy, brings. And in the struggle which the disciples must confront – all of us, all the disciples of Jesus, we must face this struggle – Mary does not leave them alone: the Mother of Christ and of the Church is always with us. She walks with us always, she is with us. And in a way, Mary shares this dual condition. She has of course already entered, once and for all, into heavenly glory. But this does not mean that she is distant or detached from us; rather Mary accompanies us, struggles with us, sustains Christians in their fight against the forces of evil.”
This is obviously what she did when she came down to appear to St. Bernadette in 1858 in Massabielle and against to Lucia and Blessed Jacinta and Francisco in Fatima in 1917. But this is what she seeks to help us to do every time we ask her in the Hail Mary to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, every time we turn to her in the Memorare and beg her to “despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me,” every time we send up our sighs to her in the Hail, Holy Queen, “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears,” asking her to turn her eyes of mercy toward us and after our exile to show us the blessed fruit of her womb.
Back in 2007, then Pope Benedict said that the way Mary spends her heaven is seeking to serve us by helping us to defeat this red dragon, to turn our back definitively on the kingdom of the “prince of this world” and to enter once and for all into her Son’s kingdom. She strives to get us to have the same enmity for the evil one out that she did, based same consuming love for God. In this scene from Revelation, Pope Benedict commented, we see in an image the entire history of the world, which St. Augustine said in his famous work The City of God is a struggle between two loves: love of God to the point of losing oneself, of total self-giving, and love of oneself to the point of despising God, of hating others. Mary loved God to the point of losing herself so that her whole being would magnify God not herself, and she wants to help us to emulate that love. The dragon is the one who wants us to pervert our loves toward selfishness so that God is definitively excluded.
Pope Benedict said that the Red Dragon continues to try to tempt people toward establishing themselves, or their pleasures, or possessions, or power as the ultimate criterion of life, to the gradual total exclusion of God. He said we saw the force of the red dragon in the evil dictatorships of the last century in the Nazi and Stalinist dictatorships. It seemed impossible in the long term, Pope Benedict said, that “faith could survive in the face of this dragon that was so powerful, that could not wait to devour God become a Child, as well as the woman, the Church.” But, he says, we saw that in the end “love was stronger than hate.” Mary said in the Magnificat in the Gospel that the Lord has deposed the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the humble. That’s what happened through Mary’s intercession.
But, Pope Benedict said, the fall of Nazism and Stalinism didn’t kill the red dragon. His power, which seeks to tempt man to place himself or other creatures or things in place of the true God, is much alive today in the aggressive secularism that is trying to banish God from the world, that’s trying to get people to live as if God doesn’t exist, to keep even public morality private so that the immoral can rule the world. The Red Dragon still exists, he says, “in the form of materialistic ideologies that tell us it is absurd to think of God; it is absurd to observe God’s commandments: [that] they are a leftover from a time past.” It’s a way of living that believes that “Life is only worth living for its own sake. Take everything we can get in this brief moment of life. Consumerism, selfishness and entertainment alone are worthwhile. This is life. This is how we must live.” Pope Benedict added that, as with those under the yoke of Nazism and Communism, “once again, it seems absurd, impossible, to oppose this dominant mindset with all its media and propagandist power. Today too, it seems impossible to imagine a God who created man and made himself a Child and who was to be the true ruler of the world. Even now, this dragon appears invincible.” But, he adds, “it is still true today that God is stronger than the dragon, that it is love which conquers rather than selfishness.”
We see the path to defeat of this Red Dragon in Mary. Speaking about the “woman clothed with the Son, with the moon under her feet, surrounded by 12 stars.,” Pope Benedict declared that without a doubt, the first meaning of this image is Mary. Her being clothed with the Sun shows that she is with God completely; she lives totally in God, surrounded and penetrated by God’s light.” She is surrounded by the 12 stars, which signify the 12 tribes of Israel, the whole People of God, the whole Communion of Saints. The moon at her feet symbolizes death and mortality that she has triumphed on just as she has stomped on the head of the evil one. This shows, Pope Benedict stressed, that “Mary has left death behind her; she is totally clothed in life, she is taken up body and soul into God’s glory and thus, placed in glory after overcoming death, she says to us: Take heart, it is love that wins in the end! The message of my life was: I am the handmaid of God, my life has been a gift of myself to God and my neighbor. And this life of service now arrives in real life.” Pope Benedict said that the message of Mary assumed into heaven, the one who has defeated the devil, is that we should “have trust and have the courage to live like this, countering all the threats of the dragon,” all the temptations toward selfishness. The “woman clothed with the sun,” he says, “is the great sign of the victory of love, of the victory of goodness, of the victory of God; a great sign of consolation. It’s a sign that gives us great hope.” This is the path that we need to defend ourselves against and defeat the aggressive secularism by which the Red Dragon continues to assail our culture, our Church and all God’s children.
The reason why Mary was able to be so courageous is because she was full of God, full of the one who is stronger than all evil. She was constantly overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, who filled her with the gift of courage. It was always able to be said of her, “Dominus tecum,” “The Lord is with you,” because from the conception of Jesus through her assumption into heaven, she lived in constant Communion with her Son, as the perfect image of the Church who is her Son’s body and bride. As we prepare for same Holy Spirit who overshadowed her to overshadow this altar so that we may receive the same eternal Son of God within us that she carried within her for nine months and received again from the hands of the apostles after her Son’s ascension, we ask the Lord, through her intercession, to fill us with the same courage of faith that characterized her whole life, so that being faithful until the end, we may one day enjoy eternal happiness with her, with St. Bernadette, St. John Paul II and all the martyrs and saints.
O Mary, Queen Assumed into Heaven, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
RV 11:19A; 12:1-6A, 10AB
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed One.”
PS 45:10, 11, 12, 16
The queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir.
R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
Hear, O daughter, and see; turn your ear,
forget your people and your father’s house.
R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
So shall the king desire your beauty;
for he is your lord.
R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
They are borne in with gladness and joy;
they enter the palace of the king.
R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
1 COR 15:20-27
Brothers and sisters:
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through man,
the resurrection of the dead came also through man.
For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order:
Christ the firstfruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;
then comes the end,
when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father,
when he has destroyed every sovereignty
and every authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death,
for “he subjected everything under his feet.”
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”And Mary said:“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and 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,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.