This weekend we get a break from our normal Sunday lectionary readings and celebrate the Assumption of Mary. This holy day recalls our teaching that Mary, because she always lived in right relationship with God and was the first disciple of Jesus, immediately was assumed into heaven when her life ended. Did she die? The Church doesn’t say one way or another; that is a question for theologians to banter about. Not only that, this feast looks ahead to the “resurrection of all members of Christ’s body” (CCC 974). That’s us! Today we can enthusiastically pray that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come” in our Creed.
There isn’t much in the Catechism about this celebration; one might assume there isn’t much more to say about it. Do we really need this reminder every year on the Church calendar? I find this feast day particularly meaningful in light of the events of the past year. With all of the lives lost to this pandemic, the increase in violence in our community, the reckoning with race that we have had to face as a country, how else can we get through the day without an extra shot of hope?
Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) wrote that “All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’” Sometimes I need that simple reminder that whenever we live as faithful disciples of Jesus, as Mary did, we can experience a small glimpse of heaven. When we come together at Mass and/or join together in community in other ways to support and encourage each other, that is a glimpse of heaven. When we support those who are suffering in any way, that is a taste of eternal life, when there will be no more suffering. The Magnificat that Mary proclaims in today’s Gospel of Luke has inspired generations of people to work for justice and right relationship with each other and in society; this concern for the oppressed is a glimpse of the Kingdom in our midst.
And Mary does not just reside in heaven (wherever that is), and support us from afar. Pope Benedict has written beautifully about the Assumption and how close both Mary and God are to us. “Mary…does not go to some unknown galaxy…Mary, united to God, is so close to us, to each one of us. Mary…has a heart as great as the heart of God. In God not only is there room for humankind; in humankind there is room for God. We see this in Mary, who bears the presence of God…this presence of God in us is so important for bringing light to the world with all its sadness, with all its problems…Mary is the consolation and hope of people still on the journey.” Especially from heaven, Mary prays with, and for us, and holds all of her children close, giving us an example and a challenge to emulate.