Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Solemnity of the Assumption 2013
Rev 11:19.12:1-6.10, 1Cor15:20-27, Lk 1:39-56
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
Mary as our Model and Guide in Faith
Today we celebrate the Assumption of the Mother of God and our mother, body and soul, into heaven within the context of the Year of Faith, which is supposed to influence everything we do during this holy year. Today, therefore, in a particular way, we together with the whole Church echo the greeting of St. Elizabeth in today’s Gospel scene of the Visitation, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!”
As Pope Benedict told us at the beginning of this holy year (Porta Fidei) and Pope Francis just reiterated in his first encyclical (Lumen Fidei), the life of faith is meant to be a life-long pilgrimage. On that journey the Church points to Mary as our model and guide.
Back in 1987, when Blessed John Paul II wrote his beautiful exhortation on Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, he structured the entire document on Mary’s journey of faith and focused on what all of us can learn from it as she goes before us seeking to lead us to the glorious goal of the pilgrimage that we celebrate today on her assumption into heaven. “Her exceptional pilgrimage of faith,” Blessed John Paul stated, “represents a constant point of reference for the Church, for individuals and for communities, for peoples and nations, and in a sense, for all humanity.” Mary, he said, is the “Star of the Sea for all those who are still on the journey of faith.”
So in the middle of the often stormy seas of daily life, let us turn today to her who is our model, mother and guide of faith and see how we can likewise have our life become an exceptional pilgrimage of faith.
There are lots of ways we could praise Mary’s faith and examine it as a model for our own. Since faith comes principally “from hearing” as St. Paul tells us (Rom 10:17), I would like to let Mary speak to us in faith and about faith by focusing on the seven times she spoke in Sacred Scripture. In each of these declarations, Mary faith serves as a model and guide for our own.
How can this be
“How can this be, for I do not know man?,” Mary asks during the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel after he had told her that she was to become the Mother of the Son of God.
This was not a question flowing from doubt like we see Zechariah say after he was told that his wife Elizabeth in her old age would conceive John the Baptist, but rather one of modality, because it implies that Mary was already totally consecrated to God in her virginity; otherwise there would have been no reason why she would have asked how she would become a mother. She knew the birds and the bees and had already been betrothed to Joseph. If she were intending to make love to him at any point, she would not have needed to ask the question. In the Hebrew and Aramaic with which she would have spoken to the Archangel, there is no distinction grammatically between the present tense and the future and hence her response just as easily is, “for I will not know man.” This confirms the early Christian tradition that Mary was already consecrated totally to God’s service as a virgin and that St. Joseph was protecting that promise.
For us to imitate Mary’s faith does not mean that we are all supposed to remain perpetual virgins, but that we live out what John Paul II called the “virginal meaning” of our existence, that we first and foremost seek to make a gift of ourselves, body and soul, to God. Our consecration and dedication to God doesn’t come after marriage, after work, after our hobbies, but is meant to be the most defining reality of our Christian life, on the basis of which all our other relationships and activities are meant to be built.
We see here that the life of faith is a life of consecration.
“Behold, I am the handmade of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”
Mary’s second word was an outgrowth of her total consecration and followed later during the scene of the Annunciation. After the Archangel Gabriel explained to her how she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, she replied that she was totally at God’s service and would let her entire life develop according to his holy will.
That’s the second thing we learn about Mary’s faith that can guide our own. John Paul II said about Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth that for her to reign is to serve. The life of faith is a life of loving service of God and others. Because of faith in God, we seek to be at his disposal, we allow him to lead. Our whole life is meant to be a “fiat,” a “let it be done to me according to your word.” We can something think that fulfillment comes rather from saying “my will be done” rather than “thy will be done.” Mary seeks to guide us on her own path of trust in God so that we will learn from her how to reign through serving — knowing, as that Son taught us, that he came to serve and not to be served and indicated clearly that the greatest in his kingdom will be the one who serves the rest. Mary is at the top of the hierarchy of holiness because she always was the greatest in serving as a handmaid of the Lord, serving God, and serving us in the cause of salvation. Our greatness will likewise come not from self-promotion but self-sacrifice.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”
In today’s Gospel we encounter the third thing Mary says in Sacred Scripture, her famous Magnificat. We could easily have a whole retreat on these verses because they sum up in a sense Mary’s perspective of faith, but I’d like just to highlight two things.
First, she cried out, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on the humility of his handmaid, from this day all generations shall call me blessed.” This points to the humility Mary had, which we’re all supposed to have in faith. Only the soul that doesn’t seek to magnify itself can magnify the Lord. Mary recognized that she would be blessed not by her own deeds but because the Almighty has done great things for her. Likewise, the same Almighty does great things for all of us — he has given us life, he has given us rebirth in baptism, he has poured out on us his love, bathed us in the love of others, given us so many physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual gifts, bestowed on us the sacraments, and given us so much more. To live by faith means humbly to recognize how endowed we are with the love of the Lord and let our souls and spirits rejoice magnifying the Lord for his incredible generosity.
Second, Mary prayed a little later in the Magnificat, “God has filled the hungry with good things.” God fills the hungry with good things. Mary was “filled with grace,” because she was hungry for God. We have a lot to learn from this. Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness, for they shall be filled.” The Blessed Mother shows each of us that we need to hunger for God, to hunger for union with him, to hunger for what he hungers and thirsts for, which is for our salvation and the salvation of others.
One of the things that concerns me as a pastor, even among those who minimally practice the faith by coming to Mass on Holy Days of Obligation like this, is that relatively few seem on fire. Few seem to be “starving” for God. When we offer a Bible Study at convenient times in the morning and afternoon for eight days with plenty of publicity, 90% of parishioners don’t show up at all. When we have a talk about a new papal encyclical, 100 come and 500 normal Sunday Mass-goers don’t. When we look at the subsection of parishioners who would be able to attend Mass on some occasions during the week, only a small percentage take advantage of it. Now it’s not a sin not to come to a Bible study, or an adult education class or daily Mass. But while it’s not a sin, missing such opportunities is probably a sign that someone is not really starving to grow in faith. Minimalism, a fulfilling of one’s duties but nothing more, is the opposite of the type of hunger that Mary lived with and inspires us to live by. The Assumption is a celebration of the fulfillment of Mary’s hunger for God. If we wish one day to experience the joys of heaven, we, too, need to stoke that hunger, for the Lord fills the hungry, but those who think they’re rich, who think that they’ve already had “enough” God for the day or the week or a lifetime, or who are satiated by the material things of this world, will be sent away empty. So it’s either hungry or ultimately empty. The Blessed Virgin Mary inspires us to choose the first!
“Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety?”
The fourth time Mary speaks is at the finding of the child Jesus in the temple. She expresses the horror every parent would express after losing a child, and she lost hers not just for ten minutes but for three days. After her internal Amber alert went off, she likely hadn’t slept for 72 hours. She expressed her pain when she eventually found her Son, about the anxiety she had as Joseph and she were torturing themselves wondering what had happened to him, where he was eating, where he was sleeping, whether he was okay. Because of her Immaculate Conception and the good moral choices of her life, Mary never knew sin, but she did know the horror that sin brings, which is the loss of the presence of God. She experienced that before she found Jesus in the temple. She shows the way each of us is supposed to respond whenever we lose God by sin. We need to seek to have our union restored with our beloved God even more than a parent who has had an abducted child seeks, hopes, prays, works, to be reunited with his or her beloved son or daughter.
We also learn something else in this scene. St. Luke also tells us that after Jesus’ response that he had to be in the house of his Father doing his Father’s business, Mary treasured these words, contemplating them in her heart. His actual Greek expression means that she pieced this experience together like a mosaic to the other experiences of her spiritual pilgrimage and held on to it with all her strength. Likewise in our life of faith, we, too, must ponder all events, uniting them to the whole and treasuring them in order to discover their meaning. Pope Francis talks about the memory of faith and Mary’s contemplative heart shows us what this type of faithful memory is. .
“They have no wine”
The fifth and sixth words happen at the wedding feast of Cana.
Mary first notices a detail everyone else seemed to be missing at the eight day wedding reception, that the family had run out of wine. And so she went straight to her Son and told him the fact, even though it was not yet his hour, the time he had set to reveal himself through the working of miracles. We know that Jesus responded to her intercession.
This episode teaches us something about prayer and something about Mary.
First, our prayer needs to be direct. We don’t need to have a long rehearsed speech trying, like a lawyer, to persuade a judge or jury to do something. We need to be very direct. God is good and if what we’re asking for is truly good we don’t need to break his arm. If what we’re asking for is not good than we should hope he says no.
The second thing we learn is Mary’s intercession. She intervenes before anyone ever knows they’re in trouble. That has always been a tremendously consoling thought for me, that Mary is constantly at her Son’s side saying, “Roger needs your encouragement. He needs your guidance to solve this problem. He needs this to happen in order to help one of the people you’ve entrusted to him.” Likewise, she’s at his side now speaking about what she notices everyone here needs. We should trust in that intercession and imitate it in our own prayer.
“Do whatever he tells you.”
This sixth word summarizes Mary’s great advice to us in the life of faith: to do whatever Jesus tells us. Mary always sought as the handmaid of the Lord to do what God was asking, to let his word and will be done in her. That’s what she asked the servants to do, and they were the participants in Jesus’ first miracle. Likewise, Mary wants us to share in her Son’s greatest miracle of all, the salvation of the human race. But we need attentively to do what he tells us in Sacred Scripture, to do what he instructs through the indications of the Pope and the bishops and priests in union with him, to do what he whispers to us in prayer and in the Sacrament of Confession, to what he reveals to us through what he tells us by the events of daily life. A life of faith is a life in which we do what Jesus tells us. Jesus told us at his Ascension, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them everything I have commanded to you.” Like the disciples in Cana who filled the six 30-gallon water jugs to the brim, we are called just as enthusiastically to act on what Jesus tells us. That’s what Mary teaches us in faith.
The last word we’ll consider is actually Mary’s most eloquent of all. It’s her silence, her silence at the foot of her Son’s Cross, the silence of her contemplative heart at the birth of Jesus, at his Presentation, at so many other mysteries of his life. Her silence is not a void but a profound statement, as we see at her standing at the foot of the Cross, which was an expression in body language of the fiat she said in Nazareth, her “let it be done” according to God’s plans.
Likewise in the life of faith, we often express our faith in silence, in silent prayer, in silence presence with others, in good times and bad, at bed sides and baptisms, putting our love and concern into action.
It was there in the silent word Mary expressed at the foot of the Cross that she said something very important to each of us. After Jesus turned to her and said, “Behold your Son” and turned to his beloved disciple, representing each of us and said, “Behold your Mother,” Mary received us as her own beloved sons and daughters, and has never ceased to be a Mother seeking to help us to grow to be conformed more and more according to the image of her first born son.
That same mother in the silence of heaven has never ceased to shower upon us all her maternal care, as she seeks, like any mother, to help us learn how to hear God and cry out “Abba! Daddy!,” as she teaches us how to pray, as we seek to pass on to others the words, as we learn to crawl, then walk, then run on the pilgrimage of faith, as we hear the vocation to marriage or to the priesthood or to religious life, and ultimately as we prepare for the end of earthly life looking toward eternity. We entrust ourselves anew to her today on this feast day of her Assumption, begging her to help us to learn from her faith how to live by faith all the days of our life.
The Path to Heavenly Beatitude
“Blessed are you who believed that what the Lord has spoken would be fulfilled.” Yes, Mary is indeed blessed, and she reveals to us the path to true happiness in this world and, even more importantly, eternal happiness and holiness with her in heaven. As she stands at her Son’s right sin arrayed in God, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head, we ask her to pray for us now and every moment until the hour of our death so that we might consecrate ourselves to God anew, truly become his servants, magnify his greatness, hunger with great anxiety to be filled with his grace, say fiat and do whatever he tells us, and receive her as our mother, so that we may follow her on the pilgrimage of faith all the way home and together with her have our souls and bodies rejoice in God our Savior forever.