Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Fr. Pete Iorio
August 15, 2021 - 8:30 AM
My grandfather had two brothers and two sisters. His two sisters were especially devout in practicing the Catholic faith. I was already ordained a priest when they were at the end of their lives. What strikes me is how each sister had a different attitude toward death. Great Aunt Jean, the oldest, told me that she was afraid of dying. She did not go into detail but asked me to pray for her. I tried to encourage her to trust in her faith, and that she lived a good and holy life and that we have the promise of Jesus to share in his resurrection. On the other hand, her younger sister great Aunt Rose was very much ready to die the last year or so of her life. She had had health struggles and so was ready to have all of that come to an end. Whenever I saw her, she spoke in her heavy New Jersey accent: Father Peter, pray that God will take me. Both Aunt Jean and Aunt Rose are now with God, and I trust that they are enjoying the fullness of eternal life in heaven where there is no more fear, no more illness, only everlasting joy with God.
Today’s feast day of the solemnity of the Assumption of the blessed Virgin Mary invites us to reflect on the mystery of life and death. The official teaching proclaims “Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God ever Virgin, after finishing the course of her life on earth, was taken up in body and soul to heavenly glory." The belief of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary teaches us something quite basic about the Catholic religion. It teaches us that the human body is something precious, a gift from God that is not lost at the moment of death. Sometimes we hear people who say that after death, the person lives as pure spirit, as an angel. That is not Catholic teaching. Yes, Jesus said, “When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.” They are “like” angels does not mean that they become angels. Angels are different creations than humans. God has made us body and spirit, and both will continue in eternity. “Where Jesus the Head has gone before in glory, the Body which are his followers is called to follow in hope.”
We know that after his death, Jesus rose again, with a different and transformed body, but a body of flesh. He was seen walking along the seashore, preparing food for the disciples, eating with them, and walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus was able to pass through the walls of a closed room and offered his hands to Thomas to touch them. Jesus resurrected body and spirit, and ascended to heaven with his body as well. His body was sacred, during his life and after his death and resurrection.
The second reading speaks to us of resurrection. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, insists that being Christian means believing that Christ conquered death because he is truly risen from the dead. We all shall be brought to life in proper order. Our whole faith is based upon this fundamental truth. Even the mystery of Mary’s Assumption body and soul is totally connected to the resurrection of her son. Once and for all, Jesus entered into eternal life with all the humanity he had drawn from Mary; and she, the mother who followed him faithfully throughout her life, followed him with her heart, and entered with him into eternal life which we also call heaven, or paradise, or the Father’s house.
The Gospel suggests to us the word: hope. Hope is the virtue of those who, experiencing conflict – the struggle between life and death, good and evil – believe in the resurrection of Christ, in the victory of love. We heard the Song of Mary, the Magnificat: it is the song of hope, it is the song of the People of God walking through history. It is the song many saints, men and women, some famous, and very many others unknown to us but known to God: mums, dads, catechists, missionaries, priests, sisters, young people, even children and grandparents: these have faced the struggle of life while carrying in their heart the hope of the little and the humble. Mary says: “My souls glorifies the Lord” – today, the Church too sings this in every part of the world. This song is particularly strong in places where the Body of Christ is suffering the Passion. For us Christians, wherever the Cross is, there is hope, always. If there is no hope, we are not Christian. Do not allow yourselves to be robbed of hope. May we not be robbed of hope, because this strength is a grace, a gift from God which carries us forward with our eyes fixed on heaven. And Mary is always there, near those communities, our brothers and sisters, she accompanies them, suffers with them, and sings the Magnificat of hope with them.
Mary was the first and greatest disciple of Jesus. Her body is transformed, like the body of Jesus, with the strength and vigor of her youth and the wisdom of her old age. She continues to do what she did during her life, teaching us to know and love God. She serves as an example. Her life of faithfulness and service took her to heaven, body and soul. We too, after a life of fidelity and service, will be together with Jesus, body and soul.
What if you find yourself like my great aunt Jean afraid of death or my great aunt Rose, eager to receive it? That is OK because that is where you are in your journey. I will also say that I invite you to become a better friend of holy Mary. She can help take away your fears and help you trust like she did in good times and in bad. Mary can also help you be patient and live without anxiety or with less anxiety. Do not hesitate to call on her. She is with you and constantly praying for you. So many times, I have prayed the rosary with someone who has been sick, anxious or dying. The prayerful repetition of the Ave Maria visibly brought about peace: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.