Beyond Mary

Rv 11:19a;12:1-6a,10ab • 1 Cor 15:20-27 • Lk 1:39-56

“By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful. Consequently we must not lose our serenity and peace even amid the thousands of daily difficulties. The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Aug. 16, 2006

As startling as this may sound, this day is not about Mary. The assumption of Mary was, as tradition teaches, so humble that even she would reject the notion that this day is about her. Instead, as did her life, this day points not to her but to God and to hope. The Church sees in Mary a symbol to see beyond her to the God whom she served so well. Mary’s words recorded by Luke give focus to the day: “My soul proclaims the greatness of God.”

This Solemnity certainly honors Mary and her role in our salvation, but it is also about a promise God made to us through His Son: we shall rise on the last day. The Assumption reminds us of the greatest gift God has given us: a chance to live with Him.

The image of Mary already assumed into heaven also calls to us to think of the Church in its own perfection. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church teaches us that “the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and the beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come” (No. 68).

Pope Francis, in his homily last year on the Assumption, pointed out that the readings lead us to focus on three words: struggle, resurrection and hope.

The Book of Revelation speaks to us of the struggle between the woman and the dragon. Through its images, Revelation warns that the ordinary world is a threat to believers, and that they must stay faithful to God’s call while they’re still in the world. The dragon, a symbol of the world, is shown as a threat to the Church — the woman. Then as now, our passage speaks to a people in a world that is unfriendly to believers. Today there are efforts to silence our Church, just as people were in the day when Revelation was written.

The vision tells of the woman, the Church, fleeing the dragon and hiding in the desert. We are the people in the desert now, but we are protected because God has prepared this place for us, wherein we wait for the coming of Jesus.

We should not fear as we live in the desert and fight against the dragon. The “Magnificat” tells us not to worry. Luke had Mary first speak: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” But then he had Mary speak not just herself but for all of Israel, for us: “. . . for he has looked upon his lowly servant (Israel) . . . He has shown the strength of his arm.”

Paul speaks of the Resurrection when he reminds us of the promise God has made. He tells us that Christ, the embodiment of God’s promise, is the “first fruits” of those who have fallen asleep. Clearly Paul is telling us that Christ is only the first to rise to the Father. We are to follow. Mary’s assumption reminds us that we can, with grace, follow Christ to the Father.

How did Mary do this? She lived the passion of Christ. Pope Francis said that she suffered a “martyrdom of her heart, of her soul. She lived her Son’s Passion to the depths of her soul . . . fully united to Him in His death.” Thus she became also united with Him in His resurrection.

There is struggle in every life, and many of us go through our own passion, but there is always the Resurrection. If we unite our struggles with the passion of Christ, we too can share fully in the Resurrection as has Mary.

The Gospel today is about hope. Pope Francis said, “Hope is the virtue of those who, experiencing conflict — the struggle between life and death, good and evil — believe in the resurrection of Christ, in the victory of love.” Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is a song of hope. It is the song of those who “have faced the struggle of life while carrying in their hearts the hope of the little and the humble.”

Today the Church uses Mary as God used her, to point us toward Christ. There is struggle, but in our struggle is the cross, and with the cross there is resurrection. The reward to Mary for her faithfulness is a promise to all of us: a chance to live with God.

FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.