By Rev. Ronald P. Raab, C.S.C.
On August 15, the Universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We celebrate the culmination of her earthly life as the mother of Jesus Christ. She was given the promise of heaven in Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Christ’s paschal mystery is given richly to Mary. The doors of heaven open to her because of Christ’s eternal presence. However, she still stands as a spiritual guide, mothering the poor and gatherer of all human turmoil and hopelessness. She has received her reward in the heavenly realm but has remained grounded upon the earth to invite the Church into an eternal and grace-filled mission.
Luke 1:39-56 is proclaimed at Eucharist during the Solemnity. We hear of a young woman who is pregnant traveling with determination to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is also pregnant. The exchange between these two prophetic women continues in the Church’s prayer. Elizabeth acknowledges that the child in her womb is leaping at the very voice of Mary and the presence of her unborn child. Elizabeth is overwhelmed and tries to take in all occurring in this treasured embrace of greeting and hospitality. She seems profoundly aware of who Mary is and who she will become.
Mary responds to Elizabeth in words that are rich and lasting. Her words have been etched in the Church’s Evening Prayer for centuries. Her words are more than sentiment and richer than the moment of her encounter with her cousin. Mary’s words illuminate her prophetic life and death. Her response shows us God’s activity within her life and her faithful response. Her words not only endear us to her but are the source of how God reveals a new authority on earth in Jesus Christ.
Mary’s Magnificat is a genuine treasure in the Church. It is not meant to be packed up and folded into history, but it is intended to ring in our hearts and ears to change the world. She expresses God’s desire to lift up the poor and topple the mighty. She says that the hungry will be filled with good things, and the rich will be sent empty away. Her words begin to till the soil upon which Jesus Christ will reveal the Kingdom of God with mercy, love, and tenderness. These words in Luke’s text remain a rich heritage that opens us to faith. The child to be born will change the world and redeem it.
Mary’s role on earth becomes a mouthpiece for divine love. Her very body will give birth to Jesus, who will heal the sick, forgive sinners, and open a new path to God’s eternal Kingdom. Mary’s courageous posture of love toward her suffering son will model how to stand among the sick, the orphans, the widows, and the grieving. Mary will be entrusted with the mission of the Church and the feminine challenge to embrace and not fight, to work for peace and not war, and to feed the hungry and discouraged and not condemn.
This Solemnity of Mary straddles earth and heaven. We stand upon the soil as Mary is assumed into heaven. Her death is a mystery. Her place in the Kingdom still needs to be fully realized in our eyes. Yet, we act as Mary did. We follow Christ serving people in need on earth as we ache for the promise of heaven. Our eternal place in heaven will follow from our bold and earthy service among people who most need us. Our earthly service will open the doors of heaven to us.
I caught a glimpse of this tension a few years ago. One Sunday, I was preparing for the parish’s last Mass of the day, where I served as pastor. I was chatting with folks outside the front door of the church. Inside, the music began, and the servers were lined up, already processing down the aisle. They did not know I was not behind them. As I entered the door to the church aisle, a woman tugged on my vestments. I paused, and she whispered in my ear. She told me that she and her daughter had just come to town and needed a shower before starting school the next day. She begged me for help. I assured her our staff would help her in the parish center next door.
I walked to the altar of God, an image of processing to God’s Kingdom. I was stopped by a mother who needed help for her daughter. This tug in two directions is the tension of realizing our call to pray and our call to serve. This holy tension stretches us to find a balance of spirituality and action. This is the mission of the Church. It is how we learn how to know what God is asking of us through prayer while feeling the tug of people who ask of us about their immediate needs. It is a joy to live and serve in such tension, standing firmly upon the earth and being surrounded by people’s needs while walking along the path that reaches heaven.
This Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption speaks of such tension for us. We wait for our place in heaven, not in body but soul. We also must grieve our place on earth. We all learn to care for one another and eventually let go of all that ties us here. We all want what Mary received. We all desire our true home in eternal life. We all desire to make a difference in our earthly relationships, families, and communities. Mary’s Assumption speaks boldly of letting go. Mary’s Assumption is an act of faith for us. It is both a mystery and a revelation of love.
Art: Fr. Ron painted this simple image of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This watercolor suggests a very human view of Mary looking to the promises of heaven while stretching her arms to let go of all that has been on earth. This image of Mary is a visual reference from a story of his ministry. A woman was ousted from a retirement home because she did not have insurance or the ability to pay. The streets became her home. She suffered from gangrene. One day across from the parish, the woman died on the sidewalk. She left behind two brown suitcases that she had carried in her days while surviving on the streets. Her earthly possessions did not fit into her new life in heaven. In this image, the woman aches for a new life, looking up and ready. “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted the lowly.”