Homily for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Review of Faith
Readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081517-mass-during-day.cfm
Today’s Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother into heaven gives us a chance to remember three critical and beautiful teachings of our Faith: the resurrection of the body, the office of the pope, and the role of Mary.
1. The resurrection of the body
We say this at the end of the Creed. “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” But what does it mean?
When I was working in the hospital as a chaplain a few years ago, I would hear of families grieving the loss of a loved one trying to comfort one another with sentiments like, “Now we have an angel watching over us in heaven.”
There is something true about this sentiment. Although we can never know for sure whether our loved ones are in heaven, our loved ones who are in heaven do watch out for us. They pray for us, and in that way, they are kind of like guardian angels.
But when we die, we do not become angels. Like Mary, we remain human beings. Mary is not an angel. In today’s solemnity, we celebrate the day she was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. This was a unique grace and gift that Jesus gave His mom. Her body suffered no decay. God brought her, body and soul, straight to heaven.
For us, it is a little different. When we die, our loved ones bury our body while our soul goes to meet God, and there, though already experiencing the joys of heaven or the pains of hell, it awaits the last day when Jesus will come to earth again. On the last day, all will rise. Scripture tells us so; all will rise: "those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." Our bodies will be reunited with our souls either in heaven or in hell. Pray God, may it be in Heaven, where Mary, our mother, already awaits us.
2. The pope
The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heaven was defined as a dogma – that is, divinely revealed and requiring our belief – by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
In all the history of the Church, only two doctrines have been defined this way: the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. So, if the pope has only defined two dogmas, what else has he been doing in the past 2,000 years?
He has been serving as the foundation of unity for all in Christ’s Church. The office of the pope was instituted by Christ Himself. We read this in the Gospel of Matthew: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail over it.” Jesus willed that His Church would have a visible head to serve as a foundation for unity for all his followers. When you’re in communion with the pope, you’re in communion with the very Church that Jesus Himself founded, the very Church that hell cannot overcome.
One only need to look at history to see what happens when you lose communion with the pope. In the past 500 years, thousands of denominations have arisen, all rejecting the authority of the pope and all interpreting the Bible in different ways. Without the pope, without the authority established by Christ, how can anyone claim to have the right interpretation? We are in a sad state of disunity and confusion. Pray God, may our separated brothers and sisters return to the Church that Christ founded on the rock of Peter, to the Church that has never ceased to honor the day of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.
3. The role of Mary
One could talk for days and days about Mary’s role in the plan of salvation, but I would like to focus on one aspect. We are generally very familiar with Mary’s role as our mother. I think, though, we are less familiar with Mary’s role as our oldest sister.
Unlike Jesus, her Son, Mary is not God. She was created about 2,000 years ago. Everything special about Mary comes from God’s gift. Her Assumption into Heaven was God’s gift; it was not by her own power. She herself recognizes this as we heard in her prayer from the Gospel: “For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant… the Almighty has done great things for me.”
Mary is our Mother, but she is also our oldest sister. Older siblings go through the same things before we do. They show us a kind of preview of what is to come. Mary is our oldest sister because she shows us what is waiting for us. A simple human being, just like the rest of us, Mary was perfected by God’s grace and now enjoys the glory of Heaven forever.
God, too, wants to perfect us in His grace. He wants us to enjoy the glory of Heaven forever. Jesus says in the Gospels, “Who is my mother? Whoever does the will of my Father.” Mary did the will of the Father by saying yes to his plan, and she became the mother of God.
God has a plan for us, too. And if we say yes to it, just like our older sister, then we will be perfected by his grace. We will become the mother of God – not by bearing Jesus in our body. Mary already did that. When we say yes to God’s plan, we bear Jesus in our hearts. This is no less real than Mary’s role of bearing Jesus in her body; indeed, Jesus Himself says it’s more important: “Who is my mother? Whoever does the will of my Father.”
Mary, our oldest sister, did that more fully than anyone else in history. That’s why we honor her. Pray God, may we too say yes to His plan and follow in our big sister’s footsteps.
The resurrection of the body, the office of the pope, and the role of Mary – these three teachings of our Faith come together in a beautiful way in today’s Solemnity of the Assumption. Thanks be to God for our Catholic Faith.