I had expected to be in Nigeria at this time, attending the Redemptorist meeting which I spoke of last week. However, I have suffered a bad ear infection and the doctor insisted that it would not be a good idea to fly such a long journey in that condition. So, I am very happy to be here with you this weekend at Holy Redeemer after all. Br Richard also did not travel to the meeting because his visa did not arrive in time, leaving Fr Sean Wales as the only one to travel. We hope that he is enjoying his time in Lagos.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Assumption, which is one of the great feasts of our Catholic year. Obviously, we will be preaching on the significance of the feast at all Masses over the weekend. So today, as an aid to further personal reflection and prayer, I thought that I would use a reflection from an American Jesuit on another way to think of the feast of the Assumption, and what it means to us. Here below are some of his reflections:
“As he lay dying, St. Francis of Assisi asked to be placed on the floor, so that he could expire on wood, in imitation of his Saviour. He also asked his friars (brothers) to read the Gospel account of the Last Supper.
A dying St. John of the Cross, having prayed the penitential psalms with his own friars, asked them to read to him the great love song of the Old Testament, the Canticle of Canticles. He was eager to go out and to meet the Bridegroom.
How we experience death is closely linked to our relationship to sin. The last act of a play determines its meaning. The passing of so many of the saints suggest that how we experience death is closely linked to our relationship to sin. It is not that the physical pain, its duration and intensity, varies by degrees of holiness. No, physically, the deaths of saints and sinners are the same.
What does alter according to the sanctity of a soul is the acceptance of death. Sinners fear death more than the saints, perhaps because the saints possess a real intimacy with the presence awaiting them on the other side. The One who has always been with them, gently leading them, assures them that, though they will “pass away,” they will not be alone.
Thanks to the evangelists, we know the details of Jesus’ death. Each Gospel, in its own way, depicts this terrible death as fully accepted by Jesus. Christ handed himself over to that presence, which had accompanied him throughout his life, the one whom he called his Father. At the core of the passion, within the heart of Jesus, there is peaceful surrender.
We have no details about the end of Mary’s life on earth. There is no account. So, what is this talk of Assumption? Like the Ascension of Christ, we are not speaking of a spatial movement upward, into the sky. We are speaking of an entrance into a dimension of fully divine life, which we call heaven. At the Ascension, the full humanity of Christ, body and soul, entered the Godhead. At the Assumption, “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” drew the Virgin, body and soul, into itself, into Trinity.
Like her Son, at the end of her life, the words of the psalmist became Mary’s own.
I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once
for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety (Ps 4:9).
In life and at death, even the greatest of the saints knows that he or she is not fully pleasing to God. Indeed, the greater the holiness, the stronger the consciousness of sin. But Christ and the Virgin left this world without any taint of sin. In their lives, nothing had ever stood between them and that silent, loving presence, which dwelt within their consciousness. Whatever the details of each’s death, neither stood in any fear of the presence, whose face was finally to be revealed”.
The Assumption of Our Blessed Mother into heaven, therefore, offers us the hope that by striving to live lives of faith, hope and charity, we too will at the hour of our own death, born into the fullness of God’s eternal love for us.
Fr Gerard, CSsR