Good morning, everyone. Always a great joy being able to be with you here at St. Charles Borromeo. I think some of you probably know by now that my Sundays are numbered. I’m going to be heading up to the Trappist monastery of the lady of Getz. I’m sorry, Our Lady of Genesee – hope I know where I’m going – The Abbey of Our Lady of Genesee https://www.geneseeabbey.org, which is in upstate New York, about 45 minutes south of Rochester. And I’ll be planning on entering the Trappist community there. So I do cherish these last remaining Sundays with you here.
So today is the feast of the Assumption, the solemnity of the Assumption, a great Marian feast. And whenever we celebrate a Marian feast, I think maybe two things, as a priest, come to mind.
First is the need or at least the apparent need for someone who is talking about the feast to have to try to really explain it or teach it in some type of theological detail. So it happens at the Immaculate Conception as well.
But more importantly, I think that when the Marian feast comes around, rather than trying to reflect upon the theological implications of the feast, it’s fair to just ask ourselves the question, where are we in our relationship with the blessed mother, with Mary?
I say this because we know as Catholics, this seems to be a very unique thing that we have. Clearly Mary is revered in in all of Christianity, but for Catholics, there seems to be this special emphasis, emphasis on Mary.
We have statues of her. We have different titles of her. We have churches named after her. We clearly have enough theological writings of our tradition that speak at depths about her. But for many of us, we probably have a so-so relationship with the Blessed Mother.
Now, of course, maybe I’m just speaking for myself because there’s times where I feel I’m very fervently having a relationship with her. And there’s other times where I feel as if she takes the back burner. Interesting thing is that within the Catholic tradition, we do know the full spectrum of devotion exists.
We have people who are so devoted to Our Lady that sometimes we question whether they believe in Jesus. And of course, we have people on the other end of the spectrum who really think that we as Catholics do too much to put the Blessed Mother on seemingly ahead of her son, Jesus.
Yeah, I think the way for us to understand how to have a relationship with the Blessed Mother in a way that makes sense is to go to the scriptures themselves, because the scriptures themselves give us an idea or at least give us the foundation as to why the church has a devotion to her.
Why Mary? Mary does have a primacy and of course, why we have these feasts in her honor, especially that of the Assumption in which we celebrate today. Mary appears in the gospels in very few places. But each time she does appear, she does something very profound.
We go to the infancy narrative in the Gospel of Luke, which is what actually we heard from today. The way that Mary responds to the visit of the Archangel Gabriel, to her saying that she will bear the son of God.
She gives up and says, let it be done, according to your word. While somewhat confused by the greeting, she trusts. Then, of course, we hear from her in her visit to Elizabeth, her cousin, and she proclaims this canticle that we just heard.
And the most astonishing thing about the canticle. It’s as if God’s mission on earth through her son has already been completed. He hasn’t even been born yet. He’s in her womb. But Mary proclaims that God’s redemption, God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s compassion has reached its fulfillments, his promise has remained true.
Then in the gospel of John, we see that Mary plays a pivotal role in beginning Jesus as public ministry. And she simply says to the waiters at Cana, do whatever He tells you, pointing to Him. And lastly, Mary shows up when her son is going to the cross.
And what does she say as she watches her son suffer and die? Well, according to the scriptures, she says nothing. Just standing there with her presence. The one thing we could definitely say about all these instances of Mary in the Gospels is that she firmly believed that God was radically in love with her. She fully believed that God had a plan – not just for her life, but for her son’s life and for the life of the world. She radically believed that God’s presence, God’s healing presence was available at every single moment of her life.
Now, the only way we can say why she was so firm in her conviction is because as we know how the church articulates it. She was given special graces. And that’s made known by Gabriel when he appears to her for the first time, he says, Hail Mary full of grace.
In fact, the word that he uses, they’re full of grace is the exact same word, kecharitomene, that’s found in the Old Testament that talks about the holy of holies in the temple, the place where God’s presence was known to be.
In a certain sense, Gabriel says to Mary, you are the new temple. You are the one who holds the fullness of grace, the presence of God. You are the tabernacle. This particular type of grace that Mary had is what allowed her to be such an excellent contemplative.
And as I mentioned, you know, I’m attracted to the contemplative life. Well, Mary is a great model for the contemplative life. Because when she gazes upon anything in her midst, in her presence. She doesn’t necessarily try to figure out ways to get out of it or try to make it suit her own purposes, or try to think what she is specifically supposed to do to direct something. She allows it to just sit there almost. And she kind of gazes upon the moments knowing that God is somehow revealing something to her at every single moment.
There’s not a missed opportunity. There’s not a particular second of the day where God’s presence can not be contemplative, contemplated. That’s what the graces within her allowed her to do.
Now, here’s the great thing. The graces that Mary has had are the same graces that are offered to us. In a certain sense, she already had the confidence of God’s redemptive mission being fulfilled in her son Jesus. From day one. Literally from the moment of her conception. Knowing that nothing was to be feared, that suffering did have a purpose.
And that there’s nothing in this world that can ever prevent us from experiencing the love of God. Mary’s graces that she had, she had from the moment of her conception. But now we participate in those exact same graces.
And that’s what a relationship with the Blessed Mother facilitates a way to open up our hearts, our minds, to receive the graces that she received. Which is exactly why we come to church. Because here in this moment, we receive the graces that come through her son in the Eucharist.
And it’s not for nothing. That the way these graces come to us come in a very tangible bodily way. We receive the body of Christ, and it’s through the body that we receive grace and grace is simply the ability to do things that we cannot do left to our own devices.
Grace shows up in so many different ways. It shows up when we say the right words at the right time, and we don’t even think about how we were going to say those words to that person who perhaps is going through a difficult time.
Grace shows up when we don’t – when we have no fear. When everything logically is saying we should be fearing what we’re encountering at that moment. Grace shows up when we’re about to go into a surgery or going through some type of medical procedure.
Grace shows up when we feel the call to do one thing or we feel a way to feed addiction one way and we somehow miraculously turn the other way. And of course, grace shows up at the moment of our death when we are at peace.
Grace is always active in the world. Yet we are able, asking the Blessed Mother’s help to be able to be fully open to that grace that we receive in this Eucharist, the body of Christ. It’s so interesting how within our tradition as Catholics and not just as Catholics, but really as people of the world, how much we cherish our bodies.
I was thinking about this actually yesterday. Some of you may know me better than others, but one of my hobbies I like to do is photography. And there’s a particular photographer that I’ve liked, his name’s Walker Evans https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walker_Evans . He died in the 70s, but he did most of his photography during the Great Depression, 1930s, postwar, and he took a photograph of a cemetery that’s located close to my hometown. It’s in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I was very fascinated by this particular photograph https://www.moma.org/collection/works/55226 he had of the cemetery. I’d never been to the cemetery before.
So it was just yesterday I was with a friend of mine back home. And they said, you know, let’s try to find this cemetery and see if we can recreate the photo today, 75 years later. And we did our best to do that. Things looked a lot different. But it’s pretty profound to walk through a cemetery.
Seeing graves with dates 1913, 1920, 1908, 1896. Here we preserve the bodies, the remains of people. And chances are hardly anyone has ever visited those graves in recent memory. But yet that cemetery still stands as a reminder of how important our bodies are.
So much so that we reverence them after we die. On this feast of the Assumption, we also are given the example. We’re given a witness of how God says yes to the goodness of our bodies by taking Mary, body and soul, into heaven. Because it shows us that our bodies are ways of being. Signs of God’s grace in the world. Just as we receive the body of Christ in the Eucharist, we become bodies of Christ to the world.
We become means of grace to the world. Grace doesn’t just come in some type of abstract way. It comes in a bodily way. And as we receive grace bodily, we now emit grace bodily.
Today, perhaps we can also ask our Blessed Mother for the grace to know how we are, to be the grace to the world, that when people encounter ourselves, our bodily selves, they’re able to see someone who’s not just a person walking around aimlessly. But a person who has joy, who knows that even in a world that’s filled with brokenness and confusion and polarization, it doesn’t matter. Because God is in control. God has already healed the brokenness. It’s a matter for us now to participate in what he has healed and we participate in it and we are a means of healing others. One person at a time.
Let us rejoice in the great gift that Mary was able to receive at the moment of her conception. Let us rejoice in the graces that she gave witness to throughout the Gospels. But most importantly, let’s rejoice that these graces are not just hers. There are as if we only say yes, let it be done, according to your word, Jesus. Amen.