Mary Assumed into Heaven, The Help of Christians, Solemnity of the Assumption, August 15, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady
August 15, 2015
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 today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in 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 is to help us apply the lessons of Mary’s life and assumption to heaven to our own. Even more so, it’s to allow Mary to become our teacher on the pilgrimage of life.  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.
  • And so the response we first ought to give to this feast is what we learn in today’s Gospel, taken from the scene of the Visitation. When Catholics ponder this mystery on May 31 each year (the Feast of the Visitation), on December 21 & 22 in the immediate preparation for Christmas, or in the meditation on the second Joyful Mystery on Mondays and Saturdays, we normally focus on Mary’s going with haste to bring Jesus to her elderly pregnant cousin, on the in utero Jesus’ making the in utero John the Baptist leap for joy, or St. Elizabeth’s words or the Blessed Mother’s Magnificat in response. But here in the Convent of the Visitation, I think we can ponder another aspect of this mystery: the welcome given by Elizabeth to Mary. “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?,” St. Elizabeth asked. The muted Zechariah listened to the conversation of Mary with Elizabeth for the last months of pregnancy in such a way that when his tongue was loosened, he was able to exclaim in his famous Benedictus not just about his Son but about how his Son would go before the Lord to prepare his way, how he would be the dawn from on high that would break upon them. Today on this feast, here in this Ein Karim on East 66th Street, the Mother of Our Lord seeks to come to us and hopes to find a similar attentive welcome. She comes to serve us like she served Elizabeth out of love. She seeks to bring us her Son to help us leap for joy. She seeks to teach us about all the good things the Almighty has done for us so that we might hallow his name and become humble so that he might exalt us not so much in this world but exalt us forever by assuming us with her at the end of our earthly life. In short, Mary seeks to give us all the help she knows we need in order to achieve the end for which the Word became flesh in her womb in order to redeem us.
  • In this Year of Consecrated Life, we’ve had a series of momentous anniversaries. On March 28, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila. On July 21st, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Philip Neri. Two days ago, on August 13th, we marked the 200th anniversary of the priestly ordination of St. John Vianney. And tomorrow we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Bosco. In preparation for tomorrow’s feast, I’ve been reading a good deal about this great patron saint of work with young people. And I’ve focused in particular, since today we celebrate Mary’s Assumption and tomorrow we’ll be pondering the fourth of five weeks in Jesus’ triennial Eucharistic catechesis, on Don Bosco’s teachings on the Blessed Virgin Mary and on the Holy Eucharist. And the two teachings are intimately connected because St. John Bosco used to teach these are the two most important aspects of Catholic devotion. This point was confirmed for him in a dream he had in 1862. From the time he was nine when our Lady interpreted for him a dream about how to shepherd young people with love rather than by provoking fear, God had been guiding him through vivid dreams. And on the night of May 30, 1862, before he was sending all of the young men who would become the first Salesian priests and other young people who were staying at the orphanage he had founded to bed, he relayed to them in his “Good Night” talk a very important dream that he had received a few nights before and that from that point forward he never stopped preaching about.
  • “Try to picture yourselves with me on the seashore,” he said, “or, better still, on an outlying cliff with no other land in sight. The vast expanse of water is covered with a formidable array of ships in battle formation, prows fitted with sharp spear-like beaks capable of breaking through any defense. All are heavily armed with cannons, incendiary bombs, and firearms of all sorts – even books – and are heading toward one stately ship, mightier than them all. As they try to close in, they try to ram it, set it afire, and cripple it as much as possible. This stately vessel is shielded by a flotilla escort. Winds and waves are with the enemy. In this midst of this endless sea, two solid columns, a short distance apart, soar high into the sky: one is surmounted by a statue of the Immaculate Virgin at whose feet a large inscription reads: Help of Christians; the other, far loftier and sturdier, supports a [Communion] Host of proportionate size and bears beneath it the inscription Salvation of believers. The flagship commander – the Roman Pontiff [the Pope]- seeing the enemy’s fury and his auxiliary ships very grave predicament, summons his captains to a conference. As they discuss their strategy, however, a furious storm breaks out and they must return to their ships. When the storm abates, the Pope again summons his captains as the flagship keeps on its course. But the storm rages again. Standing at the helm, the Pope strains every muscle to steer his ship between the two columns from whose summits hang many anchors and strong hooks linked to chains. The entire enemy fleet closes in to intercept and sink the flagship at all costs. They bombard it with everything they have: books and pamphlets, incendiary bombs, firearms, cannons. The battle rages ever more furious. Beaked prows ram the flagship again and again, but to no avail, as, unscathed and undaunted, it keeps on its course. At times a formidable ram splinters a gaping hole into its hull, but, immediately, a breeze from the two columns instantly seals the gash. Meanwhile, enemy cannons blow up, firearms and beaks fall to pieces, ships crack up and sink to the bottom. In blind fury the enemy takes to hand-to-hand combat, cursing and blaspheming. Suddenly the Pope falls, seriously wounded. He is instantly helped up but, struck down a second time, dies. A shout of victory rises from the enemy and wild rejoicing sweeps their ships. But no sooner is the Pope dead than another takes his place. The captains of the auxiliary ships elected him so quickly that the news of the Pope’s death coincides with that of his successor’s election. The enemy’s self-assurance wanes. Breaking through all resistance, the new Pope steers his ship safely between the two columns and moors it to the two columns; first to the one surmounted by the Host, and then to the other, topped by the statue of the Virgin. At this point something unexpected happens. The enemy ships panic and disperse, colliding with and scuttling each other. Some auxiliary ships which had gallantly fought alongside their flagship are the first to tie up at the two columns. Many others, which had fearfully kept far away from the fight, stand still, cautiously waiting until the wrecked enemy ships vanish under the waves. Then, they too head for the two columns, tie up at the swinging hooks, and ride safe and tranquil beside their flagship. A great calm now covers the sea.” And he told them that the dream taught him that “very grave trials await the Church. What we have suffered so far is almost nothing compared to what is going to happen. The enemies of the Church are symbolized by the ships which strive their utmost to sink the flagship. Only two things can save us in such a grave hour: devotion to Mary and frequent Communion. Let us do our very best to use these two means and have others use them everywhere.”
  • Tomorrow I’ll have a chance to ponder much more deeply the pillar of the Eucharist, but it is clear that Peter’s barque captained by the Pope in the midst of stormy seas is meant to anchor itself to the one who is “Blessed among women” as well as to the “Blessed Fruit of her womb.” Like we see in today’s first reading in the great cosmic battle in which the dragon seeks to attack the Woman and her Child, Mary fights for us. St. John Bosco wanted to stress to his boys a great devotion to our Mother Assumed into Heaven, to to Mary who reigns to serve, who is the Auxilium Christianorum, the Help of Christians. In Turin, where he worked, he constructed a huge beautiful Basilica to our Lady, Help of Christians, in Italian Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, which is where his tomb is. He would teach his boys and future priests to have recourse to their ever-present Mother who helps her children daily, going to their rescue and leading them to Jesus. “Be devoted to Mary Help of Christians,” he would often say, “and you will see what miracles are!” The Church had recourse to her in the famous battle of Lepanto in October 1571 and the Church continues to entrust our fate to her as seen in St. John Bosco’s dream. “Trust me,” Don Bosco said on one occasion in a catechesis to the boys. “If we pray to her from our heart, she will promptly aid us, because we are her special children. … I urge you as best I can – may my words be engraved upon your minds and hearts – to call upon the name of Mary, specifically saying, ‘Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!’ Brief as it is, it has been found to be a most effective prayers. … We all have our problems, we all need help. When in need of a spiritual favor, make it a habit of repeating this invocation.” So much did he preach about recourse to Our Lady Help of Christians that the faithful of Turin began to call our Lady under that title “La Madonna di Don Bosco,” St. John Bosco’s Madonna.
  • As we prepare to mark St. John Bosco’s 200th birthday tomorrow with Salesians across the world, and with all the angels and saints in heaven, if he were here among us today he would doubtless encourage us to imitate him in anchoring our life to Mary and to the Son whom she conceived, gave to the world, raised, followed, beseeched and now assists in his mission of the salvation of the world. Mary spends her heaven seeking to do good for us on earth, interceding for us just like she did for the young couple in Cana. And the greatest blessing of all that she seeks to give us is the Blessed Fruit of her womb. St. John Bosco would encourage a particularly Marian Eucharistic devotion. He would tell the young ruffians whom he welcomed into his schools and orphanage that if they wished to receive Holy Communion well they should “imagine that it is no longer the priest but the most holy Madonna herself who comes to give you the Holy Host.” Today as we come forward to receive Holy Communion, let us do just that and imagine Mary in her assumed state returning her to earth to give us the risen Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of her beloved Son. Mary, assumed into heaven, is indeed blessed among all women. And blessed are we, too, on this day, that the Mother of Our Lord should come to us and should give us that Lord!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab

God’s temple in heaven was opened,
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.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 45:10, 11, 12, 16

R. (10bc) The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.
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.

Reading 2 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.”

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Mary is taken up to heaven;
a chorus of angels exults.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Lk 1:39-56

Mary set out
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.

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