The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
What interesting times we find ourselves in. I use that word extremely carefully because interesting would not be every person’s first choice of adjectives for these times. Indeed, there is plenty of interest in current, pandemic-related events – how many COVID cases were there today; when can I receive the vaccination jab; do I still need to wear a mask, and so-on – but at face value, the unpredictable nature of the pandemic seems far from interesting.
We humans have short memories and it’s easy to forget that contemporary times have always had their difficulties punctuated by hardship, fear and uncertainty. What strikes me though, is that through all these difficulties – droughts, floods, bushfires, financial crises and pandemics – human beings continue to flourish – why? Because we’re designed that way. And if God built us that way, then there must be gift – God’s gift – in every difficulty/crisis/event that induces in us feelings of fear and uncertainty. The celebration of St Mary’s Assumption, body and soul, into heaven is an important celebration in our liturgical calendar which offers both hope and certainty that God is with us and that no matter what happens in our world, we are loved and not forgotten.
God’s active presence in our world – some call it Providence, others Grace – is the reason that these times are indeed interesting. Rather than getting bogged down in the self-referential mire of desiring the way things used to be (not just referring to pre-pandemic times I suggest with a little tongue-in-cheek), Providence calls us forward into newness of life; to leave behind the old Law and ways, as the first Christians did, and look to the ways in which God is calling us in the here and now.
Mary’s Dormition – as the Assumption is sometimes called: Mary’s falling asleep – is God’s guarantee that “those who belong to him,” as St Paul teaches in today’s second reading, “will be brought to life in Christ.” The perfect irony for us, however, is that “life in Christ” happens not just when we die and are taken up into the bosom of our loving God, but here in this life when we realise that God is actively present in our world – perhaps especially in difficult, uncertain times.
The gift of these interesting times is that difficulty forces us to broaden our horizons and look outward from ourselves, from our self-referential, insular ways of thinking, to the margins where God is firmly rooted with those who belong to him: with the poor, the forgotten and the unloved (cf. Mt 25:35-36). There are many victims of COVID, for example, where we can encounter God – not just those who have died, nor just the patients and front line workers in hospitals – but those who pass by our consciences largely unseen. The unseen victims of COVID are both where God is rooted and where our opportunity for new life lie.
Unless we’re front line workers, we can’t visit COVID patients in hospital, but we can visit isolated people in our community. Unless we can influence economic policy, we can’t alleviate those suffering from economic oppression beyond a generous donation to charity, but we can stand in solidarity with them, demanding political economic reform. Unless we’re trained in mental health first aid, there’s not much we can do to directly help those suffering from mental ill-health, but we can give them the gift of ourselves in non-judgemental love and acceptance.
Friends, Mary’s Assumption into heaven, body and soul, means so much more than the obvious. It means that even in these interesting times, God’s resurrected Son is deeply present in our world, and that he cries out in desire to be recognised and loved “in the least of [his] brothers and sisters” (Mt 25:40).