Rather than celebrating the 20th Sunday in the Ordinary Time, Mother Church invites us to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I don’t have to tell you that we, as Catholics, believe some pretty unique things about Mary – things many other faithful Christians don’t embrace. And while many of us have a great devotion to and affection for Mary, we might not spend that much time reflecting on the “why” behind what we believe. We simply accept what the Church teaches and don’t necessarily struggle to understand more deeply these articles of faith. Curiously, it is our non-Catholic brothers and sisters who probably spend more time wondering about these teachings, attempting to figure out why Catholics have this unique relationship with the Blessed Mother. And for many of them, our teachings are a kind of stumbling block, an obstacle to a more unified Christianity.
Often, other Christians will express to me their feelings that these teachings have been pulled out of thin air – in other words, “made up”, for lack of a better phrase. Yet, I can assure you that, that is not the case. Our teachings on Mary have a long history in the Church – even ones that weren’t formalized for a long time. Over the past two thousand years, the faithful have tried to understand more fully, who Mary was, what role she played in our salvation history, and who she is in the life of the Church. And our Church leaders have wrestled with those very same questions. And they haven’t always agreed. That much is true. It’s a process, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that continues as we speak. Our understanding of Mary (as with Jesus) in a very real sense, continues to unfold to this very day.
One word that comes up a lot in discussions of, and teachings about Mary is the word “fitting”. It is “fitting” that we believe these things. In other words, the things we believe about Mary make sense because of what we believe about Jesus. These teachings sort of naturally flow from our understanding of who Jesus is and what he did and continues to do for you and me. Therefore, our beliefs about Mary don’t and /or can’t stand alone, they aren’t meant to be believed or understood in “isolation”, but rather are intimately intertwined with what we believe about her Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And that is true with what we are celebrating today, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day on which we give thanks for Mary and reflect on our belief that, when her earthly life was ended, she was assumed – body and soul – into heaven, to be united perfectly with her Son.
The most important difference between the Ascension of Jesus and the Assumption of Mary is who the active party is. In the Ascension, Jesus ascends of His own power and will. Because He is divine, He acts of His own volition to ascend to the Father. On the other hand, Mary is passive. She does not raise herself — God raises her. This is a good reminder that although Mary is worthy of our devotion as God’s greatest saint, she is not herself divine. Only God could raise her into heaven. Just like all of humanity, Mary still needed a savior.
Given her role in salvation as the one who bore the Savior in her womb, it was not fitting that her body should suffer corruption and decay. She was the perfect vessel for the Incarnation and her death could not change that. It’s really a beautiful teaching when you think about it.
That word “fitting” is an interesting one. It implies that Mary was born for a particular purpose, that her life was pointed in a particular direction, that she wasn’t some sort of random bystander in God’s plan for humanity, but rather was an integral and indispensable part of it. A sine qua non type of person. A personality we couldn’t have done without. That certain things were “fitting” for her, made sense and were a fulfillment of God’s desires for her.
What’s “fitting” for us?
Sometimes, when we talk about or think about Mary, we forget that she is one of us. She is human, just like you and me. And so, when we look at Mary, we should also be able to see something of ourselves in her, some kind of commonality, some aspects that we shouldn’t just admire, but embrace. For instance, to live faithfully is to be like Mary, whose whole life was to please God. To be a good disciple, that’s a good Catholic is to be like Mary. To trust in God is to be like Mary. To bear hardship and uncertainty with faith and hope is to be like Mary. To live a life “fitting” of our calling is to be like Mary.
If I kept a tally of every time I heard someone make a broad generalization about humanity, and separated them into two columns – one for the positive comments and one for the negative ones – my gut tells me that the negative would outnumber the positive by a wide margin. It saddens me to say that, but that has been my experience. Here are some of the things I hear: Everyone has an angle. Most people would do bad things if they knew they wouldn’t get caught. No one tells the truth. People don’t really believe half the things they say. Everyone cheats on their taxes (and in the classroom). No one should be trusted. Diversity is a myth – people are better off living near people who are just like them. Every politician is a crook. Organized religion is all about “appearances”. I hope you get the idea.
Is this really who we are?
It’s easy to buy into this cynicism and skepticism and negativity. It takes deep faith to believe that what is truly “fitting” for us – what is most authentically at the core of who we are – is something and someone beautiful, generous, loving, compassionate – and may be, God-like. But we’ll never be that way if we don’t believe it, never be open to grace as Mary was if we are convinced that we are so much less than what God created us to be.
Mary can show us the way – she can show us how simply saying yes to whatever role God has in store for us, whatever life God is inviting us to – can change the world. And as we give thanks to God for the gift of her this day, and contemplate her Assumption, let’s not forget that our destination and hope and home are the exact same as hers – for God wants nothing less for you and me. Mary was and is full of grace. Let’s make sure we are open to that same grace, and embrace the beautiful life God promises us.
It’s only fitting.