August 15, 2010
On the Wings of Love!
A man had just died. Arriving at heaven’s gate, St. Peter interviewed him. “Have you ever loved a woman?” “No,” the man replied, “Not a single one.” “Did you have special friends?” “No,” he answered. “How about your parents, brothers and sisters?” “I lost my parents as a child, and I have no brothers and sisters.” “Perhaps you have a pet that you cared for? Have you any love for nature?” “No.” Peter shook his head in disbelief and asked, “What took you so long to get here? You’ve been dead for ages!” (Adapted from Reader’s Digest).
Love makes life truly meaningful and worth living. To be more precise, love brings about life in its fullness. This truth is what we celebrate on this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven.
On November 1, 1950, in his Apostolic Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus”, Pope Pius XII promulgated as a dogma revealed by God that: “Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed, body and soul, into the glory of heaven.”
The dogma of the Assumption of Mary is based, according to the Fathers of the Church, on four arguments: first, Mary is the Immaculate Conception – she did not incur the general curse of sin and so her body was “exempted from the general law of dissolution and immediately assumed into the glory of Heaven, in accordance with God’s original plan for mankind.” Second, she is the Mother of God – there is likeness to her Son, in body and soul. Third, her perpetual virginity – her body was preserved in unimpaired virginal integrity. And fourth, she participated in the work of Christ – she enjoys the full fruit of the Redemption, which consists in the glorification of soul and body (cf. Dr. L. Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 209).
Understandably, these profound theological points cannot be sufficiently discussed in a homily. Instead, allow me to give you a very practical way of understanding this dogma of the Assumption of Mary.
The Assumption of Mary can be adequately explained by only one word: love. Based on our experience, love is overpowering. It is a force that moves us towards the object of love and be united with it. People who love money are always running after money and grasping it so tightly. Those who love cars are always with their cars. And couples who are in love tend to be together all the time, longing for physical and spiritual intimacy. There is some irresistible force in love that pulls the person towards the beloved. In the case of Mary, her love of God is so great that her whole being is pulled closer to God. It practically lifted her up to heaven, body and soul. In Mary, the true meaning of love is clearly shown – love always leads to God. This is what St. John wrote: “No one has ever seen God. Yet if we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us…God is love, and whoever remains in love, remains in God and God in him” (1 Jn 4:12,16).
Bishop Fulton Sheen expressed it beautifully: “If the distant moon moves all the surging tides of earth, then the love of Mary for Jesus and the love of Jesus for Mary should result in such an ecstasy as to ‘lift her out of this world’” (The World’s First Love, p. 134). He mentioned the example of the saints who, overfilled with love and deeply immersed in prayer, experienced the spiritual phenomenon of levitation, that is, they “are literally lifted off the earth.” This levitation would be very natural for Mary, for her whole being, body and soul, free from all sins and thereby free from all inner tensions and divisions caused by sin, has no opposing force that would pull her down. Everything in her is perfectly united and integrated, and moving only in one upward direction towards complete union with God. The Psalmist eloquently expressed this desire of the soul: “O God, you are my God – for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, like a land parched, lifeless and without water”(Ps 63:2).
Mary’s Assumption, then, can be easily understood by love. It is also love that is the source and cause of her perfect beauty. Being intimately close to God, she radiates His infinite beauty. In countless portraits, icons and images of Mary, artists have all tried to portray her face. Yet all their attempts fell short of capturing the full extent of her ineffable beauty. Matt Monro sang about that: “Anyone who sees her, soon forgets the Mona Lisa. It would take, I know, a Michelangelo, and he would need glow of dawn that paints the sky above – to try and paint a portrait of my love!”
Nevertheless, this leads us to a very practical lesson on how to be beautiful: be in love, truly in love with God – like Mary! For instance, Mother Teresa was not a beautiful woman physically. But as one looks at her for some time, her aura of holiness can be sensed, and her face gradually shines in a certain way that makes one believe she is indeed beautiful. A well-known author, Martin Buxbaum puts it, “Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty – they merely move it from their faces into their hearts.” That is the beauty of somebody who is in love, whose life is completely immersed in the love of God.
This celebration of Mary’s Assumption inspires us to hope. Pope Benedict XVI said: “For over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, the Mother of God, as ‘Star of the Sea’: Ave maris stella! Human life is a journey. Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. They are lights of hope. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us?” (Spe Salvi, 49). Let us turn to Mary. She gives us hope that, like her and through her maternal intervention, we will find the way to heaven, our true and lasting home.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002