Weekly Musings

Mary Garden

Noon Mass

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. 

 

Angles Unawares

Noon Mass

crucifix

God is Present

A few weeks ago, the first reading for Mass was the story of Jacob wrestling with a man/angel (Genesis 32: 23-33) all during the night until the break of dawn. At the time, Jacob was on the run from his brother, Esau, from whom he was estranged. I suspect Jacob felt at least at a distance from God and possibly even abandoned by God. But then God found Jacob and wrestled with him in the form of a man all night long. Not being able to prevail over Jacob, the man said: “Let me go for it is daybreak.” But Jacob told him: “I will not let you go until you bless me.” At the end of the story we are told that Jacob named the place Peniel “Because I have seen God face to face, he said, yet my life has been spared.” Clearly Jacob knew that he had struggled with God, and while not triumphing, had been blessed by the experience. 

Now my suspicion is that there have been times in each of our lives when, like Jacob, we have felt that we were wrestling with God. Fortunate and blessed indeed is the person who has not experienced times when they have felt alone and abandoned, or times of pain and hardship. At these times when we face questions that seem unanswerable, worries that keep us awake, and when anxiety is our constant companion, God can seem absent from us. At these times, though, if we can remember Jacob, perhaps we will discover, as Jacob did, that those times are privileged places of God’s grace and blessing. 

Now, to be clear, the above doesn’t just happen. Jacob had to wrestle all night long in order to experience a blessing. And so it is with us. Sometimes we need to “wrestle with God” in order to experience God’s grace. Many years ago when I was struggling with a decision, the priest who was my spiritual director at the time told me: “John, the grace is in the struggle. Don’t avoid it; engage it.” And while I couldn’t see it immediately, I eventually discovered that God had been with me in the struggle and had been offering me God’s good grace all the time. I just wasn’t able to receive it, until I opened myself to it. 

Each of our lives is a mixed bag of blessings and pain. While we would like to enjoy the blessings and avoid the pain, that isn’t possible. What is possible, though, is to believe that God is present in both the blessings and the pain. It took me a long while to realize this. I have come to know and believe, though, that even in the messiness and the struggles of our lives, God is present and offering us God’s good grace. There is indeed grace in the struggle. We just have to be open to that grace in order to receive it. 

 

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