Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies

"The Blessed Virgin Mary: Forerunner in the Pursuit of Holiness and in the Perfection of Charity"
Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
August 15, 2011
Year A

A young college student, the product of a parochial school, was once in a squabble with a university professor concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary. The professor, with sharp cynicism, said to the young man: “there is no difference between that mother (Our Lady) and my own mother.” “Well, that may be true,” said the student, “but certainly there is difference between the sons.”

While growing up in Italy, the young Eugenio Pacelli used to pray the fourth decade of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary – the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As he prayed, he meditated on this aspect of the life of the Virgin Mary not yet proclaimed as a doctrine of faith. Little did he know, that in 1950 he, as Pope Pius XII, would be the one to declare the Assumption as a Dogma of Faith. But that faithful Catholics believed it for over a thousand years is indeed true: Mary, after finishing the course of her life, was taken up body and soul into heaven. The question is, then: why did it take so long to make such a proclamation that was obviously already believed? In order to answer our question, we must reflect upon the history of the Church and the writings of the Church Fathers.

The earliest mention of this feast is found in a homily given by Bishop Theoteknos of Livias, modern day Palestine. It dates back to the early part of the sixth century where the bishop speaks of the assumption as common belief. “She found what Eve had lost…” he says, “She found what Adam had forfeited through his disobedience.” Other Patristic Fathers, such as St. Modestus of Jerusalem and St. Germanus of Constantinople both testify between the sixth and seventh centuries of the same belief. But I think it was St. John Damascene, in the early part of the eighth century, who made the most profound reflection on the life of Mary:

“It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity in tact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to Himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she has escaped in the act of giving birth to Him, should look upon Him as He sits with the Father. It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and the Handmaid of God.”

What we find in these early reflections on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary is that her Assumption into heaven was the reward of her being preserved from the stain of original sin, the reward for having born in her spotless womb the Word-made-Flesh, the reward of her fiat and the gift of her body, consecrated by God. Who she is by nature necessarily assumes that she would be the first receive the promise made by her Son – bodily resurrection and eternal union with Him in heaven. She gave Him her body only to have it returned to her in the glory of eternity.

With all this in mind, we now return to our original point of departure – why did it take the Church more than a thousand years to make this well-known, common belief a matter of faith? Beginning in May of 1946, Pope Pius XII called for an expansive consultation, asking the bishops, and through them, priests and the faithful around the world, if it was fitting to make this definition. The result was overwhelmingly positive. And on November 1, 1950, in the Encyclical Munifecentissumus Deus, Pope Pius declared: “by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

The timeliness of this proclamation was of great historical significance, writes theologian and professor, Fr. Paul Haffner, and in it is found the answer to our question. He explains that the definition of the Assumption came in the middle of a century where, on many levels, the reasonableness – both in theory and in reality – of the sacredness of human life was being denied. The first half of the twentieth century saw the rise of totalitarian regimes such as Marxism and Nazism. Both sought the glorification of the state through a political utopia. Their hatred toward sacredness of life was manifest in the gulags and concentration camps. In the second half of the twentieth century, the attack on the sacredness of human life was taken a step further through the massacre of untold millions through abortion. Not to mention the horrific practice of euthanasia, the sacrilegious experiments performed on human embryos as well as genetic engineering and the attempts at human cloning.

In the midst of the turmoil in our own time – the Church rose up to speak: Mary was taken up to heaven, body and soul to the glory of heaven. Like all of us here today, Mary too was created in the image and likeness of God Himself, her bodily assumption reminds us all of our own supernatural destiny in Christ – that we too are to receive the reward of our faithfulness in bodily resurrection. What Mary manifests to us is who we are all called to truly be – she shows us what was lost at the fall of Adam and Eve and reveals the glory of the freedom of the sons and daughters of God – true freedom of body and soul and the call to sanctity. Thus, the Church’s declaration of the Assumption makes known to us Mary’s essential role in the economy of salvation – that the sacredness of life is a divine gift, that the body is not some extrinsic, some entity outside of our “real” selves but rather part of who we are as human beings and what means to be fully human. Mary reveals the body as gift, as God’s goodness, freely given to us in order to be freely returned to Him – a gift that leads to communion. Christianity is thus proven to be an embodied religion and without the proper understanding of the sacredness of life, it cannot be fully understood. Mary, by her assumption into heaven, causes this truth to be known. As Pope John Paul II once commented:

“By looking at her, the Christian learns to discover the value of his own body and to guard it as a temple of God, in expectation of the resurrection. The assumption, a privilege granted to the Mother God, thus has immense value for the life and destiny of humanity.”

What we learn from the Assumption of Mary into heaven is something essential to our Christian lives. She teaches us that all virtue, all holiness, and morality itself is centered upon the sacredness of life and how we, as Christians, are to uphold that sacredness in our everyday lives. In order to pursue the virtues, to pursue the perfection of charity – holiness itself – we must first recognize that human life, as created in God’s image and likeness, is sacred and a gift from the Creator.

As Christians, then, we must make it our aim to witness to the sacredness of life and we do so in several ways: by fully participating in the sacraments – which, to their purpose, stimulate the senses in order to manifest a hidden, divine mystery that touches both the body and soul – by following the example of the Blessed Virgin in pursuit of holiness, the perfection of charity in all things, by seeking to live the virtues in such a way that bears testimony to the fact that holiness is a matter of body and soul. In this our fiat is one that embodies the Lord in the witness of our lives. This is the task of every Christian and in doing so, then will we begin to truly live a Christianity that gives evidence to the sacredness of human life – life created in God’s own image, and then will we come to truly understand what it means to be human, to be a true disciple of Christ and one day, too, be taken up by God into the glory of that same eternal communion with our Blessed Mother and the saints and angels.

O Blessed Lady, we consecrate ourselves to you this day, body and soul, interior and exterior, and even the value of all our good actions. We leave to you the entire and full right of ordering us to the greater glory of God, in time and in eternity. Virgine Immaculata, Aiutataci – Immaculate Virgin, Help us. Amen.



Fr. Jon Reardon


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsfield, MA.




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