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The Assumption of Mary: “Blessed are You Who Believed”


tomb_of_maryToday we celebrate an event that took place at the end of the Virgin Mary’s life on earth.
 
The church believes that when that time came, Mary was taken body and spirit into the presence of God – an idea that is incomprehensible to us because it is completely outside our experience.
 
The church does not say, because it has no evidence, whether Mary died and was then assumed into heaven or whether she was taken while she was still living, but the church has taught for many centuries that God would not allow the woman who bore the Christ child to undergo the corruption of the grave.
 
This was formally defined as Catholic dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
 
The document the pope issued had an impressive name: Munificentissimus Deus—the most benevolent God.
 
And the church identifies Mary with the woman described by the author of the Book of Revelations: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
 
And yet the woman—or, rather, the girl we read about in the gospel passage proclaimed at Mass today, a girl rushing to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, didn’t have any of those trappings of glory.
 
On the contrary, she was as simple and obscure as she could possibly be, and she had every reason to believe that she would stay that way.
 
But simple doesn’t mean naïve.
 
Simple doesn’t mean simple-minded.
 
Simple doesn’t mean ignorant.
 
In fact, it may be because she was such a simple person whose mind wasn’t cluttered up with ambition and greed and suspicion that Mary had such clear vision.
 
There’s a great deal of meaning in Elizabeth’s remark to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’’
 
Mary was a unique human being in a few ways.
 
She was conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin.
 
She conceived a child through the direct action of God’s Holy Spirit.
 
And she gave birth to that child who had within him both the nature of humanity and the nature of God.
 
No other human being can make these claims.
 
But still, Mary was a human being, and she had to cope with these extraordinary circumstances by using her human faculties.
 
Elizabeth says “blessed are you who believed” because Mary had accepted God’s will, as she understood it, through the exercise of her own free will and her Jewish faith.
 
And that didn’t end with the birth of Jesus.
 
In recent years, the church and religious scholars have put increased emphasis on Mary’s role—not only as the mother of Jesus and then as the queen of heaven — but also as the first and most faithful disciple of Jesus.
 
The scriptures necessarily focus on the ministry of Jesus, but it is clear in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles that Mary didn’t just wave good-bye to her son and stay home in the empty nest.
 
On the contrary, Mary closely followed her son’s ministry, visibly identified herself with him even as he was dying on the cross, remained among the apostles and other disciples in those uncertain and dangerous days after the resurrection, and was present when the Holy Spirit infused the infant church on the occasion we know as Pentecost.
 
In doing this, of course, she set an example for us who are no less human and no more human than she was.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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