August 18, 2019
(Revelation 11:19, 12:1-6, 10; Luke 1:39-56)
I want to start today with a little poem. I have had a printed out copy of this about a couple decades or so ago and it can easily be found on the net. It has nothing really to do with my sermon topic; it merely was in a packet of notes I was rustling through while searching for something I was looking for related to my sermon. I paused at it as if an inner voice was telling me to use it for today’s sermon. Maybe it is meant for a follower of mine on Facebook, who knows …. But here we go, relevant or not.
Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion's guest room. Instead the angels were given a small space in the cold basement.
As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, 'Things aren't always what they seem.'
The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night's rest. When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field.
The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel how could you have let this happen? The first man had everything, yet you helped him, she accused. The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let the cow die.
'Things aren't always what they seem, the older angel replied. 'When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn't find it.' 'Then last night as we slept in the farmers bed, the angel of death came for his wife. I gave him the cow instead.
Things aren't always what they seem.' Sometimes that is exactly what happens when things don't turn out the way they should. If you have faith, you just need to trust that every outcome is always to your advantage. You just might not know it until some time later..
Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow a mystery.
Today is a gift.
That's why it's called the present!
Never take away anyone's hope, That may be all they have.
Hopefully that helped whomever it was meant for. Okay, now on with the Assumption. Why is the Assumption important?
At the core of our faith is the belief, based on the biblical accounts, that Christ experienced a bodily resurrection from the dead and ascended, while still in bodily form, to heaven. The Assumption of Mary confirms that this extraordinary reversal of death is not limited only to Christ. If Mary can end up in heaven, body and soul, so can we who share in her humanity.
This isn’t something that should be surprising to you. Jesus’ message has many references in which he is telling us how we shall obtain eternal life, and thus, entry into paradise.
One of the peculiarities of the Old Testament, at least from a Christian perspective, is that it did not have a well-defined concept of heaven. When people died, even the righteous, they ended up in Sheol, the shadowy underworld that is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek Hades, and thought of as Gehenna in the Talmud. The ancient Israelites did understand that there was a heavenly temple from which God reigned. This is beautifully depicted in Isaiah’s vision. But they didn’t necessarily view heaven as a destination for saints. Enoch, Elijah, and Moses were exceptions to the rule.
The Assumption of Mary clarifies and confirms that the heaven of the New Testament is a place where the saints experience the presence of God. She is the first one to enter under the New Covenant. In a way, Mary opened up heaven for rest of the saints (aka believers), just as she opened up the earth to the fullness of God’s Incarnate presence.
The whole point of the dogma is its emphasis on Mary’s bodily assumption. Otherwise there would be no need for it. Arguing that Mary’s soul went to heaven at the end of her earthly life is to claim nothing different than what happens to every other person who died in a state of grace. Of course, those who aren’t “saints” would have to make a pit-stop in a state of cleansing, commonly known by Catholics as purgatory, before entering into the fullness of heaven, but still the overall point holds.
Mary shares in Christ’s mission. This is based upon her role as the New Eve to His New Adam, which is evident in Simeon’s prophecy and her presence at the crucifixion. Mary’s Assumption to heaven is the final reversal of the evils of sin and death unleashed by the Fall.
Mary’s assumption means that there are no bones or tombs of Our Lady to venerate. This means that, contrary to the Protestant accusations, Marian veneration is particularly Christo-centric. Thanks to the Assumption, it is impossible to think of her without thinking of her being in the fullness of Christ’s heavenly presence.
Some protestants go so far as to say there is no proof. I usually answer by saying, “Yes and no.”
First of all, while it is true that the early Christian writers do not explicitly mention the Assumption of Mary, there is an ancient and curious silence about her bodily remains that cries out for an explanation. Sometimes, it is said, "silence" can be "deafening."
We know from Tradition and apocryphal books that Joseph had died prior to Jesus’ ministry. We know that after the crucifixion Mary was cared for by the Apostle John (Jn 19:26-27). Early Christian writings say John went to live at Ephesus and that Mary accompanied him. There is some dispute about where she ended her life, whether in Ephesus or back at Jerusalem. Neither of these cities nor any other claimed her remains, although there are claims about possessing her (temporary) tomb. Why did no city claim the bones of Mary? Apparently because there were no bones to claim, and people knew it.
In the early Christian centuries, relics of saints were jealously guarded and highly prized. The bones of those martyred were quickly gathered up and preserved. There are many accounts of this in the biographies of those who gave up their lives for the Faith [for example, the bones of St. Peter and St. Paul were widely known to be preserved in Rome, and the sepulcher of David and the tomb of St. John the Baptist are both mentioned in Scripture]. Yet here was Mary, certainly the most privileged of all the saints ... but we have no record of her bodily remains being venerated anywhere.
Surely, as important as Mary was to the new movement, her relics would have been preciously guarded, if she had not been bodily taken into heaven.
Explicit mention of the Assumption of Mary begins to appear in the fourth century. We have an account of the event given by St. John Damascene in a copy of a letter he preserved from a fifth century Patriarch of Jerusalem named Juvenalius to the Byzantine Empress Pulcheria. The Empress had apparently asked for relics of the most Holy Virgin Mary. Patriarch Juvenalius replied that, in accordance with ancient tradition, the body of the Mother of God had been taken to Heaven upon her death, and he expressed surprise that the empress was unaware of this fact (implying that it must have been common knowledge in the Church at the time).
Juvenalius joined to this letter an account of how the Apostles had been assembled in miraculous fashion for the burial of the Mother of God, and how after the arrival of the Apostle St. Thomas, her tomb had been opened, and her body was not there, and how it had been revealed to the Apostles that she had been taken to Heaven, body and soul. Later, in the sixth century, belief in the Assumption was defended by St. Gregory of Tours, and no saint or father of the (Catholic) Church thereafter disputed the doctrine.
In fact, one can argue that the mystery of the Assumption is right in the very place we would most expect to find it if the doctrine were true: namely, in the writings of the Apostle St. John, the one into whose care our Lord placed His Mother at the hour of His death on the Cross, and especially in what may be the last of the New Testament books to be written, a book almost certainly written after Mary's earthly life was over, the Book of Revelation.
In his book Hail Holy Queen, Dr. Scott Hahn shows conclusively that the story of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth in St. Luke's Gospel, chapter one, bears numerous and remarkable similarities to the account in the Old Testament of King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). The similarities are too many to be accidental: St. Luke is telling us that Mary herself is the new Ark of the Covenant. Just as the Ark in ancient Israel contained the tables of the Law, and some of the manna-bread from Heaven — signs of the Old Covenant — so Mary's womb contained the sign of the promise of the New Covenant and the true Bread of Life: Jesus our Savior Himself.
Thus, it was already believed by the Apostolic Church that Mary was the new Ark of the Covenant.
Now, keep in mind that the old Ark of the Covenant had been lost for many centuries, and none of the Jews knew where it could be found. (It remains missing to this very day). With that in mind, look what we find in today’s Epistle reading at the end of chapter 11 of the Book of Revelation:
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm.”
What an audio-visual spectacular! The Ark had been found! But look what the Revelation tells us next:
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child.... She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.”
Clearly, what St. John was shown in his vision, recorded here in the Book of Revelation, is that the (new) Ark of the Covenant is now in Heaven as a "woman clothed with the sun" whose child is the Messiah. In fact, several of the Church fathers saw this passage as a reference to Mary, the Mother of our Savior, including St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine, among others.
So, while all this may seem to be trivia to some, it is vitally important to Catholics. With Mary’s Assumption, we can feel confident of our own entry into paradise. We do well to remember Jesus’ words: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). It is Jesus who says if we, “shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” … we shall have our mansion in paradise, just as Mary has before us.
We do well to honor Mary. Everyone surely remembers the old joke (who knows, maybe it’s true?) of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s that I have repeated on occasion - One day our Blessed Lord was walking in his kingdom and he was noticing souls who seemed to have won entry into heaven quite easily. So, the Lord said to St. Peter, "How are all these people getting into heaven?" "Don't blame me, Lord" St. Peter says, "Every time I close a door, your Mother opens a window!" That she does, no joke or doubt about that!
Let us ask her to open one for each of us!
Let us Pray.
That Our Lady Mary, Mother of the Church, will guide and support all church leaders with maternal love. We pray to the Lord.
For all those who have left the practice of the faith, that through the intercession of the Queen of Heaven they receive the grace to return the Church and the Sacraments. We pray to the Lord.
That the Assumption of Mary into heaven will fill all Christians with an ardent desire for sanctity and the life of heaven. We pray to the Lord.
For an end to gun violence of all kinds in our country, and for victims and those who mourn them. We pray to the Lord.
For our parish and our entire parish family that we may always take an active role in caring for those in need and offer the hope that comes from Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, you have raised up the Blessed Virgin Mary to share in your communion of love. Accept us into that holy embrace through the sacrifice of our prayers. Dear Father, we recognize that proclaiming your gospel is especially challenging at this time of cultural and social upheaval. We pray that we ourselves be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to proclaim and live your message proudly and with charity to those who would deny you. We ask all these prayers, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA