15 August 2021Assumption

Homily from Father James Gilhooley

Feast of the Assumption - Cycle B - Luke 1:39-56

A charming story is told of the nineteenth century

Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes fame. Contemporary artists were anxious for her to describe the woman she had seen in the grotto. So, one after the other, they showed her the most famous pictures of Mary. The young Bernadette was shown the beautiful Madonnas done by Murillo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, El Greco, etc. To each she shook her head in disappointment. To their surprise, she said, "The lady looks like none of these paintings." To herself she said, "My mother, why do they minimize your beauty?"

Mary is the woman whom we come together to honor today.

There is a large amount of centuries-old apocryphal literature dealing with the Assumption of Mary into the Heavens. While historically the material is at best unreliable, nonetheless, it does tell us what many early Christians believed about this feast.

One such centuries old piece is allegedly authored by a St Melito of Persia, which is today's Iran. I found it years ago in a volume by the distinguished historian Henri Daniel-Rops.

So, do sit back and slip off your slippers while I share with you the rich imagination of this holy gentleman Melito.

After her Son's Ascension, Mary goes to live with the family of young John the Evangelist. It is situated in the Mount of Olives with a splendid view of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, John and the other apostles have been posted to their various missionary assignments around planet earth. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith has been born.

Two years have disappeared since the Ascension. Still Mary grieves for Jesus. An angel appears and informs her she will rejoin her Son in several days. Mary is delighted. She says to the angel, "I have but one request of you. I wish to see the apostles one last time." And who is a mere angel to turn down this last request of the mother of the Son of God? So, he or, if you prefer, she gets to work immediately rounding up the famous twelve around the world. We are talking about a can-do angel.

The angel discovers John working in today's Turkey. John finds himself scooped up on a cloud. He is deposited in front of his parents' home on the Mount of Olives. After several bowls of chicken soup from his concerned mother, Mary fills him in on her approaching death. She informs John that she suspects enemies of her Son will desecrate her body. So, clever Melito is preparing his readers. They will not be unduly surprised by an assumption of Mary soul and body into Heaven.

Meanwhile the non-stop shuttle of Angel Airways continues at a furious pace. One suspects no baggage was lost. And surely there was no reason to worry about terrorists. The other apostles have been all picked up in various countries. They find themselves placed at Mary's residence before the flight attendant can say, "Fasten your seatbelts and put your chair in the upright position" Even Paul of Tarsus, who was not an apostle, is airmailed. For once he is speechless. All are assembled and Mary briefs them on the approaching happenings. One hopes she had a lot of fresh linen and soap on hand. The gracious hostess topped off the evening with a porkless barbecue and good red wine.

Mary dies as programmed. Jesus appears and gives her soul to the archangels Michael and Gabriel to take to Heaven. He tells His apostles to carry His mother's body to the family plot. On the way, the procession is attacked by a mob. As Mary had predicted, they wish to desecrate her body. They are fought off by a blustering Peter wielding still another sword.

Once again, the Christ appears. A sweating Peter fills Him in on the would-be desecration. Not surprisingly, He asks them all, "What would you advise I do with my mother's body?" To a man, they reply, "Please take her body to heaven for safety.”

The Master instructs the archangels to return His mother's soul to her body. So, she experiences a resurrection of body and soul both to her Son's Kingdom. We of course hope to achieve something similar in our turn. After all, the rejoining of our body with our soul is an article of our faith. This then is the tale of the woman whom Wordsworth, calls our "tainted nature's solitary boast."

Even back in the early Church, Mary was the object of veneration. Dare we contemporary Christians honor her less?

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino

The Solemnity of the Assumption: Mary, the Greatest of Us

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. The Dogma of the Assumption was solemnly declared by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950. This was the declaration that after her life on earth was completed Mary was taken up to heaven body and soul. 

The belief in Assumption dates back to the early centuries of the Church. Christians always believed that Mary’s death was a falling asleep in the Lord or dormition. She was immediately taken up to God. Actually the Dormition of Mary or, to use our terminology, the Assumption of Mary, was one of the most popular themes in religious art of the medieval times.

With the exception of Jesus Christ, who is the Eternal Word, conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary is the greatest person to ever exist. She is the greatest person to be conceived through a human mother and a human father. She is greater than Buddha, or Mohammed, or Moses, or David, or any of the great people of history. She is the one who was conceived without sin. She gave her life so we can have a Savior. She is the greatest of us all.

The greatest of us all is a woman. Mary brought a new dignity to every woman who has ever lived and who ever will live. Women bring life into the world and nurture this life. Because Mary sacrificed herself for us, our women bring unique reflections of God into the world, and nurture His Image with their bodies and with their lives. Women are life givers. Christian women give life to the Divine. Women are sources of love, carriers of love and nourishers of love. In these days when the most lucrative industry in the world is the pornography industry, where mainly young girls are exploited, Mary reminds us of the Dignity and Respect that are the natural rights of every female among us. We men are reminded that it is our obligation to care for and protect our women, be they little girls, teens, wives, singles, widows or the elderly. Recently, the young men in our youth group have been meeting to pray for our young women. All men need to pray for those among us whose biblical origin was a gift from God to Adam.

In these days of the glorification of the self, Mary reminds us of a person whose body and spirit were created for another. She said “Yes” to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation and allowed God to radically change her life. She nurtured and cared for the child that others wanted dead. She supported Jesus as a young man when some thought he was deranged. She stood with Him as He was tortured to death to complete the Father’s plan of redemption. She accepted John and us into her heart and became our mother. For all this and more than we could ever imagine, Mary was rewarded with her total union with God at the conclusion of her earthly life. She was assumed into heaven. Now, seated the closest to her Son, the judge of the Living and the Dead, within whisper length from his ear, she brings our prayers before Him. She brings the prayers we offer when we honor her in the Rosary. She brings the prayers we offer when we just call out, “Mother, help us.”

And we pray today on the feast of her assumption. We pray for our ladies, young and old. We pray for our brothers and sisters who are hurting. We pray for peace. We pray for ourselves.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies

Gratitude Week 10: Most Grateful for Mary

(August 15, 2021)

Bottom line: Of all creatures we are most grateful for Mary. She points to her Son Jesus - the one way to happiness that lasts.

This year the Solemnity of the Assumption falls on Sunday, Today we also have the final homily in our summer series on living a life of gratitude. Before talking about Mary, I'd like to review what we have learned:

First, gratitude begins when we stop taking things for granted. Then we can thanks God for things small and great. We can be grateful even during affliction. We are able to choose a life of gratitude which means to choose happiness. Last week we saw two steps to a life of gratitude: Get rid of all bitterness. Then, get up and eat - not just ordinary food, but the Bread of Life, Jesus' Body and Blood, the Eucharist.

When we talked about the duty of happiness, I acknowledged that some children seem born with a little cloud over their heads - and it follows them all their lives. These gloomy souls do have a role - they remind us that life is tragic. The Buddha begins his teaching by recognizing the tragic nature of life. The Buddha's "First Noble Truth" states that the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death is inevitable. In the Bible, Ecclesiastes saw something similar, "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity."

One of our Catholic prayers - the Hail, Holy Queen - recognizes the inevitable suffering of human life: "Hail Holy Queen...to thee do we cry poor banished children of Eve." On account of sin, we have been banished from paradise. In spite of our clever schemes, we cannot create heaven on earth. The Soviets tried and failed miserably. We dream about some perfect day in the future. When the day arrives, it usually disappoints. Once I talked with a bride on the morning of her wedding day. They had spent a year planning the event. "I can hardly wait," she said, "for all this to be over." Stunned silent, I looked at her, touched her shoulder and said, "big smile."

Even in best moments, a puzzling sadness can come over us. When we pray the Hail Holy Queen, we acknowledge that we are "mourning and weeping in this valley of tears." No matter how you cut it, this world is a valley of tears. The people we love die. The projects we work on, they often go awry.

We live in a valley of tears, but some happiness is possible. Let's quickly review levels of happiness: Level 1 is sensual pleasure - that steaming bowl of linguini. It's great but it lasts only a few moments. Level 2 is ego gratification - some achievement that distinguishes a person. In the sixties I was winning quarterback for the Stanwood Spartans. Not really, but even I was not many people would care today. Level 3 happiness is better than ego gratification. This happiness comes from service to others which is excellent and noble. Even that happiness disappoints. Charles Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic, treated hundreds of patients, saving the lives of many. Eventually, however, they all died. Service to others brings deep, genuine happiness (and is part of one's eternal salvation) yet in the end it disappoints. We humans are weak, fragile and flawed.

Thanks be to God there is a fourth level of happiness. It is based on things that transcend this world, namely, truth, beauty and goodness. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." He enables us to have a relationship with God who is perfect truth, beauty and goodness.

We can see level 4 happiness in Mary. She is God's most perfect creature. In the Hail Holy Queen prayer we call her "Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope." This does not take away anything from God. In fact, it glorifies him.

A young man might say to his beloved, "I adore you. You are the most beautiful. You are my life." We don't say, "Stop. You are idol worshipping." No, we know he is seeing a glimpse of the divine. Soon enough, he will know she is a fellow human being, not a goddess. Their relationship will last if they come to God together. That's what Mary wants for us. So we say, "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."

Thus we reach the end of our summer series on gratitude. Next Sunday we celebrate my 50th anniversary of priesthood. Despite being a weak, sinful man, God has given me grace to find happiness in this call. Next weekend I'll tell you how it happened.

For today we see that we cannot create paradise on earth. We mourn and weep in this valley of tears. Of all creatures we are most grateful for Mary. She points to her Son Jesus - the one way to happiness that lasts. So we pray, "After this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey