Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley
Thursday 14th August, 2014 – 7:00pm
At the beginning of his homily for the Chrism Mass in Holy Week a couple of years ago, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI recalled 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.
St Paul writes that, indeed, the Son of God did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men; and being as all men are, he became humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross. The early fathers of the Church spoke about the sacred exchange that happened between God and people. God took on what was ours, SO THAT we might receive what was God’s and become similar to God.
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.
For the benefit of all who would follow Christ, the Lord 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. This is the message that is to be proclaimed as we stand at look at situations like Iraq. We are destined to be raised above all of this. God has become one of us, to make us like himself – God has made us so that we might share his life – the life of glory that the Blessed Trinity has enjoyed from all eternity. As the psalmist sings to God: You have made us little less than gods, with glory and honour you crown us!
The challenge to us, in all of this, is that the way to glory, the way to becoming like God and sharing the divine life fully, is to embrace the way of lowliness and self emptying. This is what Jesus, the Son of God, did. And this is what we see Mary doing – she who is the FIRST among all believers of Christ. We become divine, we advance to glory, the more we humble ourselves; the more we let go of our self-will, and cling to God’s perfect will.
Many important themes echo in today’s celebration. Every Sunday we profess in the Nicene Creed: I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. When we renew our Baptismal promises in the Apostles Creed we affirm that we believe in the resurrection of the body.
The Christian idea of heaven is not of some collection of floating, disembodied spirits or souls – but of a bodily life – in fact, a glorification of the bodily life we have already begun. Our life in heaven, in the fullness of God’s kingdom, has a real connection with the life we live now – such that it could not be conceivable without our bodies that are such an important part of who we are.
In the rites of preparation for the baptism of infants we ask God to make the little ones temples of his glory, and to send his Holy Spirit to dwell within them. God fills us – our bodily selves, with his spirit. We are dwelling places, temples, of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are destined for eternal glory – Mary’s assumption, body and soul into heaven, is a sign and promise of the glory that awaits us.
Our bodily, earthly, lives are therefore important – and what we do in our bodies matters. Our bodies are the vehicles through which we receive God’s grace in the sacraments. Our daily living is not a trivial thing, marking time until the better life of heaven comes … our daily living, filled with God’s spirit, is made holy by God, and invested with a divine meaning.
WE are reminded today that we are body and soul. We are not just souls (and eternally we will not just be souls) and we are also not just bodies. For this reason human life can never just be reduced to the level of mere physical bodily existence. From the very moment of our conception, we are body and soul: called to share the divine life; body and soul created in God’s image. The life of the unborn child in the mother’s womb can never be spoken of as simply a body, a physical thing. It is a body and soul, a human person – divinely called into being.
The assumption of Mary into heaven turns our focus to the heavenly glory that awaits us and that God calls us to share … a life of joy, freed from the effects of sin and death that mark our lives here below. Whilst turning us to heaven, this feast also in a real way points out the sacredness of our bodily earthly life. A bodily life that will not be discarded in eternity, but rather glorified and perfected.
God has given to the church the visible gift of Mary’s assumption into heaven. Through it God says: this is why the Son took on humanity … that people might be brought to glory for all eternity.
As we offer Mass today, recalling the glorious event of Mary’s assumption into heaven, let’s be grateful for this sign of hope and comfort: let’s be reassured of what God wants for us [our eternal destiny]. For what the Lord has done in and for Mary, the Lord wants also to do for us.