Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Assumption of Mary, Soul and Body

(Solemnity of the Assumption-Year B;This homily was given 14 & 15 August, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Revelation 11:19-12:10 and Luke 1:39-56)

Have you ever noticed how many times, in the course of an average Mass, we change the position of our bodies? When we begin we stand for the opening prayer. We sit for the readings, stand for the Gospel, sit back down, kneel before Christ in the Eucharist, stand . . .

The reason we do so is because we come to Mass to worship God, and that is not just a spiritual practice. We do not worship God in prayer only. We are not just spiritual people; we are physical, as well. We are made up of body and soul, and when we respond to God we do so with our souls and our bodies.

That reality has everything to do with the feast we celebrate today: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into heaven. We do not believe that Mary is in heaven spiritually. She is not present in heaven in the exact same way as St. Peter and St. Paul, or St. Francis of Assisi. All of those canonized saints are believed to be in heaven, but their bodies are still here on earth. They will one-day experience—along with us—the resurrection of the body. With Mary, it is different.

At the end of her earthly life, Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. There is no grave in Palestine, or anywhere else for that matter, with Mary’s name on it. She is eternally in heaven, body and soul, forever worshiping her God and ours.

If we think about that for a moment, it really is the only “end” for Mary that makes sense. She who so completely gave herself to the Divine plan, so totally said, “yes” to God that she literally made Him present, physically, in this world. God, who is infinite and eternal, who exists invisible and outside of time and space, suddenly becomes physically present on this earth through the body of Mary. It is only fitting that Mary’s body, therefore—not just her soul but her body, as well—should be brought up into heaven at the end of her earthly life.

As we celebrate the feast of Our Lady, assumed into heaven, we ask God for the same grace to make Him present in this world, like Mary. We ask for that same cooperation with the Divine plan that makes Christ physically present to those around us.

The world we live in, so torn apart by violence, war, division, cynicism, a lack of faith, nonetheless still longs desperately for the touch of Christ and to see the face of God. Will you and I be the ones to bring the presence of God to those who are seeking the body of Christ?

St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church, has a beautiful way of expressing her incarnational spirituality. She writes:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.

Who are the people in your life and mine who are in need of that blessing? Who are the ones in need of a kind word of encouragement, or someone to listen to them in their deepest need?

Might we be the voice of Christ in their lives, or that listening ear trying to understand. Might we respond to God, and to those around us, body and soul, so that we may one day be raised up again, body and soul, into heaven with Mary our Mother, and her Son, forever.