Sunday, August 21, 2016

August 21, 2016
Assumption Sunday
Today, instead of a regular sermon, I thought we would have a refresher catechism on the Assumption.
The doctrine of the Assumption says that at the end of her life on earth, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, just as Enoch, Elijah, and perhaps others had been before her. It’s also necessary to keep in mind what the Assumption is not. 
Since the Immaculate Conception and Assumption are not explicit in Scripture, Fundamentalists conclude that the doctrines are false. Here, of course, we get into an entirely separate matter, the question of sola scriptura, or the Protestant "Bible only" theory. There is not enough time in a sermon to properly discussthat idea. Let it just be said that if the position of the Catholic Church is that oral Tradition (in some cases handed down from as far back as the Apostles) and divine revelation do play a part in how we believe and live as Christians, thus the notion of sola scriptura is false. There is then no problem with the Church having a doctrine or belief which is not explicitly in Scripture, so long as it is not in contradiction to Scripture. 
The Catholic Church was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly—guided, as he promised, by the Holy Spirit until the end of the ageWe must keep in mind, as the Gospels tells us, Christ spoke many things to his Apostles and Disciples privately that were not written down in what we now refer to as the Bible.
I find it strange that Protestant Evangelicals, AKA non-Catholics, never seem to wonder where Mary is now, or what her role might be. If they do chance to wonder, they generally keep it to themselves. Raise too many of the wrong topics, and questions may start being asked about whether you really are "one of the group". Therefore, it is quite uncommon for Protestant evangelicals who are quite certain that Uncle Fred is in heaven, wearing his kingly crown, or that they themselves are heaven bound, to question Mary's presence there.
If the Virgin Mary isn't in heaven, then there's very little chance that anyone else will ever get there. Mary is the supreme example, or prototype, of what happens to a person who fully places trust and faith in God. Everything we hope to become in Christ, she already is. Out of the millions of "decisions" made for Christ, Mary's was the first. Therefore, whatever promises the Holy Scriptures hold for us, Mary already possesses.
But why do people say that Mary was taken bodily into heaven if it not anywhere in the Bible?
The problem with showing Mary's Assumption, (or the deaths of Mary or most of the Apostles, for that matter), in the Bible, is that the Gospel record ends before any of these events occurred. The Assumption, however, seems to be implied the 11th and 12thchapter of the Book of Revelation. Surely, some would argue, then it could have been mentioned in one or more of the Epistles? Even these end prior to all the Disciples and Apostles dying, so that is a weak argument as well. 
Mary's Bodily Assumption is also a long-standing teaching of the Ancient Churches. The celebratory festival in August dates from at least the 5th century in Palestine, and had reached Gaul by the 6th. The setting of a Festival Day for a belief is evidence not only of a strong and almost universally-held belief in that doctrine, but also of a long-standing belief - since it is rare for Festival to be celebrated for a belief or incident for which there is not some long attestation. As a comparison, the date of December the 25th for the celebration of Christmas was set only in 354 AD by Pope Julius I. 
Early references to the Assumption of Mary include Timothy of Jerusalem in around 380 AD, who wrote: "Wherefore the Virgin is immortal up to now, because He who dwelt in her took her to the regions of the Ascension.
Gregory of Tours in 580 AD wrote: "Mary, the glorious Mother of Christ, who, we believe, was a virgin before and after childbirth, was, as we have said before, carried to Paradise preceded by the Lord amidst the singing of angelic choirs."
Apocryphal writings detailing the Assumption have been dated back to the 3rd century AD. Although other early references are few, the fact that the Celebration of Mary's Assumption into Heaven was not opposed in what was a highly disputatious age, argues strongly for a general acceptance and belief in the doctrine.
But isn’t it wrong to say that anyone but Jesus ascended into heaven? That is His privilege alone.
Some people think Catholics believe Mary "ascended" into heaven. That’s not correct. Christ, by his own power, ascended into heaven. Mary was assumed or taken up into heaven by God. She didn’t do it under her own power such as was the case with Christ.
This point is quite often made by Protestant apologists. But they are mistaken. The Old Testament tells us that both Enoch and Elijah were assumed (taken) bodily into heaven. (Enoch = Genesis 4:26; Elijah = 2 Kings 2:11) So Mary's Assumption, is far from being unbiblical, in fact it follows a strong Biblical pattern. Furthermore, it appears from the New Testament, (Jude 9), that Moses too may have been assumed into heaven, even though no record of this appears anywhere in the Old Testament. This, incidentally, provides a biblical record of an important teaching that was passed down over an extremely long period purely by Oral Tradition.
Some would ask. “Isn’t Mary’s Assumption a new doctrine developed by the Church of Rome?”
No. As we have already seen, it is a very old belief in the Church. What happened in 1950 was that Pope Pius XII "defined" it as a Roman Catholic dogma. This did not make it a new doctrine - it simply reinforced its status. The Church has never formally defined whether she died or not, and the integrity of the doctrine of the Assumption would not be impaired if she did not in fact die, but the almost universal consensus is that she did die. Pope Pius XII said of Mary, "after the completion of her earthly life", [she] “was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven" " (note the silence regarding her death).
The fact that the Christian Community has believed from the earliest days that Mary was taken bodily into heaven can also be proved from the fact that no-one ever claimed to have her relics. It is agreed upon by many scholars that Mary ended her life in Jerusalem, or perhaps in Ephesus. However, neither those cities nor any other claimed her remains, though there are claims about possessing her (temporary) tomb. And why did no city claim the bones of Mary? Apparently because there weren’t any bones to claim, and people knew it. Here was Mary, certainly the most privileged of all the saints, certainly the most saintly, but we have no record of her bodily remains being venerated anywhere. Yet, many of the Apostles’ relics were and are in existence.
St. Peter is in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
St. Paul is in St. Paul's Church in Rome.
St. Matthew is in the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Messina, Sicily.
St. James the Greater is in St. James Church in Compostela Spain.
St. James the Less (the Just) is in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Rome.
St. Bartholomew is in St. Bartholomew-in-the-island Church in Rome.
St. Andrew is in the Cathedral of Amalfi in Italy.
St. Philip is in the Church of the Dodici Apostoli in Rome, Basilica of the Holy Apostles.
St. Simon is in the Vatican, under the Altar of the Crucifixion.
St. Jude is in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
St. Thomas is in the Cathedral of Saint Thomas in Mylapore, India.
St. Matthias is in St. Matthews Abbey in Trier Germany, and in St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome.
St. John is in the ruins of the Basilica of St. John in Ephesus Turkey.
From the times of the persecutions, relics of the Saints had an immense value. Christians would often risk their lives to collect the remains of martyrs from the Arena and preserve their relics. In later days, having the body of a holy Saint in your church could make your city wealthy. St Peter's body has the greatest church in the world built on top of it. Thomas a Becket drew enormous pilgrim crowds to Canterbury in England. St James drew millions to Compostela in SpainAny Church or city that could have claimed to hold Mary's body or even a single bone from her finger would have at once become one of the richest and most popular places of pilgrimage in the world. In fact,about 400 AD the Emperor Marcian asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capitol. He was informed that there were no relics of Mary.
So valuable were relics that many were accused of fraudulently manufacturing them just to draw pilgrims and create wealth. Yet from the earliest days no-one has claimed to have the body of the Virgin Mary - or even as much as a single small bone. Why not, you might ask? Because her body was hard to find? Not really. Plenty claimed to own part of the True Cross or even the Crown of Thorns. So why did no-one claim to have Mary's body? There is one logical reason. Quite simply because no-one would have believed them, because there was no body left on earth to findTradition (word of mouth from the Apostles) says the reason there are no relics is because Mary was assumed into heaven. From the earliest days of the Church everyone knew that Mary's body was not on earth. Every Christian simply believedthat she had been assumed bodily into heaven. Surely, if there had been room for any argument about that fact, if there had been room for the slightest doubt, then some church somewhere would have claimed to have had Mary's body.
As a note of comparison, the belief is especially fitting when one examines the honor that was given to the Ark of the Covenant. It contained the manna (bread from heaven), stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (the word of God), and the staff of Aaron (a symbol of Israel’s high priesthood). Because of its contents, itwas made of incorruptible wood. If this vessel was given such honor, how much more should Mary be kept from corruption, since she is the new ark—who carried in her womb the real bread from heaven, the Word of God, and the high priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. 
It is worth noting that 1 Chronicles 15:14 records that the persons who bore the ark were to be sanctified. There would be no sense in sanctifying men who carried a box, and not sanctifying the womb who carried God himself! After all, wisdom will not dwell "in a body under debt of sin" (Wis. 1:4). But there is more than just fittingness. After all, if Mary is immaculately conceived, then it would follow that she would not suffer the corruption in the grave.
Lastly, as most of us know, we venerate Our Lady, we do not worship her. Worship is only for God and God alone. Just as we venerate the saints and all Angels. As Catholics we make the claim that we reserve worship for God alone: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, but we allow veneration for Mary, saints, all Angels and earthy heroes.  From an outside perspective, this does seem hypocritical, or at least somewhat shady.  However, by looking at the definitions that the dictionary offers, it is clear that the words “worship” and “veneration” are very distinct from another, and are appropriately applied.
Worship: 1) reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred. 2) formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage.
Veneration: 1) a feeling or expression of awe or reverence. 2) the act of venerating or the state of being venerated.
Or to put it as St. Thomas Aquinas put it, “Reverence (dulia) is showing respect to someone, whether it be your parents, pastor, government official, or a saint. These people are worthy of respect either because God has put them in a position of authority over us (parents, pastor, government official) or we recognize the work of God's grace in their lives (saints).
Worship (latria) is giving your life to God as a living sacrifice. God is our creator and redeemer, so he has a double claim on our lives, so the proper response is to offer our lives back to him. Worship should be all consuming such that even the reverence we show to the saints is actually an act of worship to the God who made them saints.
As the joke, attributed to Archbishop Fulton Sheen goes: “One day the Lord says to St. Peter, "How are all these people getting into heaven?" 
"Don't blame me," St. Peter says, "Every time I close a door, your Mother opens a window!"
Let us pray.
Father God, in Your Divine providence, You chose Our Lady Mary to be Your mother, when You were born to us as the second person of the Trinity, Your Son, Jesus the Christ. In so doing, Mary was the first to receive the eternal redemption given to us all by receiving Your Son Jesus Christ. 
As God, Jesus could not enter a womb of a sinful person, and so, Mary was given the gift of Immaculate Conception in preparation for the Birth of Jesus. She became the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and thus the most pure of human beings. 
Due to her place in our salvation, the world over has venerated her as Your mother and hence the Mother of the World. In such, we often ask her intercession in our lives. As that of being Your mother in Jesus Christ, we know that she has a very intimate ability to seek answers to our prayers, as has been seen throughout history.
Today, we ask her prayers to help each of us to not only understand her role and placement in Your kingdom properly, but that we also may have true devotion to her, that we too may be worthy of Your kingdom. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

God Love You+
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.