August 15, 2021 ~ The Assumption of Mary

From the Assistant Pastor’s Desk

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

From a point of view which has unfortunately been shaped by secular thought, feast days like the one we celebrate this weekend can seem distant or irrelevant. Mary’s Assumption appears to be about something beyond the scope of what actually concerns us. To quote the words and the spirit of a problematic hymn that many of us grew up with, the Assumption is among those things which are not happening “here in this place,” but rather which happened “in some heaven light years away.” From this point of view, the most important happenings are the happenings of here and now—the latest news, politics, and the myriad of social and ideological trends around us. To spend time focusing on the events of salvation history—and especially such a particular event as the Assumption of Mary—seems silly in the face of such pressing matters. 

But the truths of the faith are not distant or irrelevant to this world. Rather, they dig deeper than these other things that we concern ourselves with: they form the foundation on which we are able to build up our daily lives. Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock (Mt. 7:24). Jesus did not say: “everyone who listens to the correct political party” or “everyone who is best informed about the latest statistics,” but “everyone who listens to these words of mine.” We are best able to do good in this world by keeping our sights on heaven and by knowing whose image we were made in and what we were made for.

This is most perfectly exemplified in Mary. In her, the preparation of the people of God through the teaching of the prophets and the practice of the Law reached its completion. With the help of God’s grace, kept safe from the stain of sin, she was formed into a worthy vessel to carry our Lord into the world. She was not an activist; she did not lead protests against the Roman occupation of Israel; she was not frequently turning political or social questions over in her mind. She lived a simple life, with her mind and heart always on the Lord—pondering His words and actions in her heart. And yet no merely human person has changed the course of history as she has—and none ever will. Because goodness is not something brought about by political power or human wisdom. Goodness always has its source in God. And, of all people, Mary is the one person who has most perfectly allowed God to work through her.

Our faith tells us that Mary was received into heaven at the end of her earthly life because, unlike us, nothing was preventing her from being united with God in the life of heaven. Already on earth, she was united with God, without any sinful attachments marring that union. It is not for nothing that the angel Gabriel gave her the unprecedented title: “full of grace.” Mary kept nothing back from God—her soul was entirely filled with His grace, with His love, because it was entirely open to Him; God dwelt in her freely. Even in this life, then, Mary experienced the foundational reality of the life of heaven, which is perfect union with God. Heaven and earth had already met in her soul when she was asked by the angel to allow that meeting to take flesh in her womb. 

Although we can never fully imitate Mary’s perfect openness to God, the same source of grace which allowed her to live in this way is also freely available to us! In our own lives, we too are called to allow heaven and earth to grow into union by allowing God to work through us. In fact, Jesus taught us to pray for just this: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. To set our sights on heaven and on the things of God is not to abandon or to escape from the things of earth. On the contrary: if we seek union with God in this way He will dwell in us, and He will do much greater good on earth through the simplest of our actions than we could ever do by all of our restless and anxious activity apart from Him. Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain… It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil (Ps. 127:1-2).

Throughout history, we have had examples of those who have followed this model of Mary—this plan of life which involves giving ourselves over to God and letting Him direct our labors. These people are the saints, who the Church presents to us as so many examples. And they were not distant or aloof from those around them. Their stories are not separated from historical reality. Louis de Wohl, a dedicated biographer of the saints, puts it well: “The lives of the saints are history, for saints make history, and, what is more, they make it the way God likes it best. History without saints is all warfare, battles, countries enslaved or freed, actions of rulers, change of power from one country to another. But from time to time God points toward the way He wants things done, and the pointer He uses time and again is a saint.”

In the plan of God, it is not for us to determine whether or not we will “make history” in a way that is widely recognized or known. But we know that, if we follow the example of Mary and the example of all the saints—if we place God at the center of our lives—our lives will further the good which God wants to bestow on the world.

With all of this in mind, aware of the state of our country and aware of the many anxieties which we might have because of it, I say without reservations: let us be less anxious about the things of this world and more about the things of the Lord. It is a timely message today, when so many minds are filled with the endless noise of news and of politics. Let us take it seriously: this constant preoccupation will do us no good—only our greater union with God will. And if I might suggest one practical way of working towards that, it is a very simple recommendation which I am not the author of: for each minute we spend reading or watching the news, let us spend at least as much time reading from Scripture or from the writings of the saints.

In this way, and in all the practices of the Church, may our community ever grow in union with God, so as to bring His love and His goodness every more visibly into this world.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Christian

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