For the Feast of the Assumption | Fr Steve Rice
My devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has certainly developed over the years. At first, I felt like I should have a devotion to Mary because so many, so many, Christians before me have been devoted to her and, as she says in the Gospel tonight, all generations will call her blessed. They should call her blessed. So between the overwhelming weight of the Christian witness and experience and the authority of Scripture, I knew that any reticence to honor her as the Mother of God said more about me than it did her.
I think, growing up as a Southern Protestant I was resistant because I was taught to be resistant. My resistance certainly wasn’t based in Scripture, Tradition, or Reason, but culture and expectation. I never felt like I had permission to honor her the way I felt I should. Even as a priest, I have held back out of either pastoral concern or pastoral cowardice, not wanting to stir anything else up.
But I’m growing out of it. And two things primarily have helped that growth. One was seeing my own children love their mother and the second was the death of my own.
I have three wonderful children. Honestly, I couldn’t be more blessed and I know it. And I know my children love me. But as much as they love me, they really love their mother. And I completely understand why. She knew them before I did. I was around as they were growing in her womb, but I didn’t feel them until the day of their birth. I may have changed their first diaper, but I wasn’t the first one to feed them. I cut the cord, but I wasn’t the first one to kiss them. I saw them before their mother, but she knew them long before me.
As a father, I know I have a role. I know I have a certain set of unique responsibilities and gifts for them. But the bond between a mother and child is deep, and there’s nothing else like it. I’m not saying that bond goes deeper than with fathers, but I’m saying it comes close.
And if that is by God’s design for us as human beings, then how absolutely perfect is it that our salvation came through this very same bond. Mary knew Jesus before anyone knew him. Mary felt Jesus before Jesus touched anyone else. Mary said yes to Jesus before anyone else heard of the invitation.
The Word of God was made Flesh through the inestimable bond between mother and son. In carrying the child Jesus in her womb, Mary is the perfect icon of faith. She loved him before she saw him. She was devoted to him before she heard his voice. His life was in her womb, but her life was in his hands.
And for that reason, among many, we venerate her. Not worship, for that belongs only to her son, but we venerate her as his mother and we celebrate the union of God and Man in Jesus that was literally given life though the bond of mother and son.
A child, son or daughter, never forgets that bond. Even in death, the bond is still felt. I lost my mother six years ago and I still miss her. I still love her and I certainly still pray for her. When I was in South Carolina last month for a funeral, I did what I always do when I’m back home. I drove out the cemetery and said a prayer at her grave. I know she is not listening to me from the ground, but even in death the bond is physical and there is a need to be close.
Which brings us today’s feast. We typically celebrate the saints not on the day of their natural birth, but on their heavenly birth – which is the day of their earthly death. We remember them not when they were born on earth, but when they were born in heaven.
The tradition surrounding the Mary’s death is very old and there are many variations of it, but they all agree on this – when it was time for the Blessed Virgin Mary to leave this earth, all of the apostles were brought to her. With the sound of thunder, wherever they were, the apostles were brought to Mary in a miracle.
Our Lord with the angels came and took her soul to heaven, and the apostles with great sadness and duty prepared her body for burial. After her burial, Our Lord also came to take her body which was reunited with her soul in glory in heaven.
The difference is that when we die, our souls are commended to God, undergo particular judgement and have a foretaste of eternal life. Our bodies are committed to the earth where they rest until the Return of Our Lord and the generation resurrection where all bodies and souls come together either for glory everlasting or eternal punishment.
Jesus gave his mother a profound honor by bringing her – body and soul – to himself in heaven. Remember, the bond between a mother and child is physical, and there will always be a desire to be close.
That is what we celebrate today. We celebrate her faith and devotion to her son before she ever knew him. We celebrate the love and devotion of Jesus to his mother by bringing her to himself – body and soul.
We celebrate what awaits us who die in faith. Mary is the first created human being to enjoy the fruits of the Resurrection. And just with everything else –when we look at Mary, we always see the love and work of her son.
So don’t be afraid to love Mary. Our love for her was promised. Don’t be afraid to look to Mary, for she is our model. More than anything else, let us remember that a mother’s life is to love her children. By loving Jesus, we love Mary more. And in loving Mary, we love Jesus all the more.