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Sunday, August 15, 2010
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
A GREAT SIGN APPEARED IN HEAVEN: A WOMAN CLOAKED WITH THE SUN AND HAVING THE MOON UNDER HER UNDER HER FEET.
A GREAT SIGN APPEARED IN HEAVEN: A WOMAN CLOAKED WITH THE SUN AND HAVING THE MOON UNDER HER UNDER HER FEET (Apocalypse 12:1). Holy Scripture contains various kinds of writings: stories of patriarchs and kings, revelations made to individuals and reflection upon the events of history, on creation and the movement of time. Such analysis and reflection on actual happenings was felt to be a way of discerning the meaning hidden in the events whose deeper significance was obscure. Such study appeals to those more thoughtful persons who are particularly concerned with ordering their lives in keeping with the dictates of a wisdom that is procured through experience, thoughtful analysis, attentive observation and humble prayer for understanding. A considerable portion of the Bible consists in presenting a reinterpretation of past events in light of deeper insight into the meaning of God's plan as discerned by authors who were inspired by the Spirit. Such reinterpretation often accounts for works in the Old Testament, both in the Torah, notably the book of Deuteronomy, and in such prophets as Second Isaiah. The new Testament too represents a further development along the same lines. Much of its teaching consists in inspired insights into the person of Christ as the fulfillment of prophecy and of the promises made to the Patriarchs. Jesus understood himself and his mission in terms of this earlier revelation.
The passage we have just heard from the Apocalypse witnesses to such a process of observation and reflection on history made with faith in God's Providence at a time of heavy persecution. The whole scene of the woman cloaked with the sun, bringing forth a son in an unfriendly desert, is shrouded in mystery. The language employed is deliberately allusive and symbolic, so that it can be rightly understood only by those who already share something of the author's perspective and beliefs. This woman who gives birth to a son whose life is in danger from hostile forces, is a symbol of the Church of God. This extraordinary woman, under heaven's special care, enshrined in glory, yet facing danger is an image of the Church who is best exemplified in Mary, the Mother of the Savior. From the first time she is introduced in the New Testament, Mary is set apart from all others. She is designated by the angel as the most blessed of all women, superlative in her holiness a well as in the role she was to undertake in becoming the mother of the Savior. In assuming that role, she goes beyond the limits of nature so as to become unique: alone among all women she conceives and bears a child while remaining a virgin. Thus, from the beginning Mary stands for a kind of special creation; she is more than an outstanding individual. She is a symbol of the perfectly realized human person in God's plan, and of the whole of the people of God. She does not need man for her fruitfulness; for her, God is enough. She is fructified by the Holy Spirit of God who overshadows her. Yet she remains one with all of us who belong to her Son.
Only a special intervention by God preserves the mother and her child from a deadly assault of a hostile power. The immediate sense of these symbolic events is that Divine Providence has a particular care for the Church. The Catholic tradition eventually came to understand this special act of God to include not only the protection afforded to the Church and in particular to Mary and her divine child, but also her bodily assumption into heaven. Her glorification is a pledge of the future glory to be given to the Church, in the person of all of us who follow her example of faithful dedication to her son to the end. Certainly, this is the significance given to this scene in today's liturgy when we commemorate the Assumption of Mary into heaven, in body and spirit.
Today, as so often in the past, the Church is exposed to hostile attack from enemies of many kinds, as, in the person of her fervent faithful she seeks to bring forth children who live in holiness that makes them worthy of the kingdom of God. We are keenly sensitive in our own time to the opposition of the world to Christian faith and hope and a life conformed to God's law. The Church will always bring forth her children in a world that is a hostile threat to her very life and that of her offspring. But God's special care and Providence is powerful to save and glorify those who are his.
Mary's experience as mother of the Savior and mother of the Church was lived out in intimate union with her son who, as the prophet foretold, was a sign of contradiction. Her life was joined to his as he lived out the conflict inherent between the people of God and the world. She merited the glorification that we celebrate on this Feast of her Assumption by her fidelity to the graces of her virginal motherhood and by standing at the cross of her son as he died in humiliation and rejection. May the Eucharist we offer this morning, along with her intercession and protection, obtain for each of us a share in the same grace of fidelity to her Son, who is himself our hope of eternal salvation.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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