Sunday, August 15, 2010

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
We Have Lift-Off!

Readings: Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab; Psalm 45; 1 Corinthians 15:20-27a; Luke 1:39-56
Picture: cc Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center

Dear sisters and brothers, have you ever seen a rocket being launched into the sky? Probably many of us have watched it on TV, or in the movies, or seen pictures of it in the newspapers. Can you imagine what it must be like to observe it in person? Can you imagine what it must feel like to be deafened by the roar of the explosions, and to witness the incredible sight of thousands of tons of steel being blasted into the heavens in a great crimson ball of fire and smoke? And then to hear the words, Houston, we have lift-off? Can you imagine what it must be like? In addition to the feeling of wonder and awe that such a marvelous thing could be possible, we would probably also experience a sense of excitement and exhilaration. It’s as though the rocket carries our hopes and dreams with it as it rises into the heavens. And, as we watch, we may wish that we too could go along for the ride.

But isn’t it true that, in order for the rocket to fly upward, there must first be an opposing force directed downward? The rocket is blasted into the heavens only because hundreds of tons of rocket fuel is first set on fire, and the force that is produced by the explosion is then directed downward onto the earth. Most of the rocket is really a container for this fuel. Which is why, especially if we’re watching from a distance, it’s difficult to see the rocket itself because of all the fire and the smoke. We can only follow its flight upward by carefully watching the flames that are emitted from its tail.

And to watch carefully is also what we need to do today, as we celebrate this great feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Like a rocket rising gracefully into the sky, today Mary is lifted up body and soul into heaven. And we need to watch carefully – with the eyes of our minds and our hearts – if we want to share in the joys of her flight. For, as we all know, the bible does not tell us what happened to Mary when she came to the end of her time on this earth. The bible does not give us any description of Mary’s Assumption. How then do we know that this is what happened to her?

We know because, although the bible does not describe her flight from earth to heaven, it does tell us about the crucial role that Mary played in bringing heaven down to earth. In a sense, our readings help us to appreciate the rocket’s upward rise by showing us the flames being emitted from its tail. In the gospel, for example, we are reminded of how Mary brings heaven to earth by first consenting to become a mother. In agreeing to carry Jesus in her womb, Mary allows herself to become something like a container for rocket fuel. For consider what the second reading tells us about Jesus, the fruit of Mary's womb. As in Adam all die – and so are buried in the depths of the earth – so too in Christ all are brought to life – all are raised to the heavenly heights. Like the fuel that, when ignited, drives a rocket into the sky, the fiery force of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is what propels us all into heaven. And it is Mary who carries this propellant in her womb. It is Mary who directs its power onto the earth.

We see her doing this in today’s gospel. Even before she actually gives physical birth to Jesus, Mary is already sharing him with others by going to the aid of her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. We’re told that Mary set out… to the hill country… It was not an easy journey. But she undertook it in haste, for the sake of her cousin. And at the sound of Mary’s greeting both Elizabeth and the as yet unborn John the Baptist are filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary endures an arduous journey to bring Christ to her cousin. And this is but one of the many trials that Mary had to undergo to bear Christ to the world, to bring heaven to earth. Later, she would also have to give birth to her son in the discomfort of a stable, to flee with him by night into Egypt, to lose him for a time in the Temple in Jerusalem, and then, years later, to watch him suffer a cruel death on the Cross. Not unlike the rocket that crumbles and collapses even as the force from the exploding fuel pushes it heavenward, such are the trials undergone by Mary our mother. And these sufferings of hers recall to us the image of the woman in the first reading, the one who wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth, as she struggled to bring heaven to earth.

But what was it that enabled Mary to endure these terrible trials? How was she able to bear and to bring the awesome power of her Son’s dying and rising to the world? It is Elizabeth who reveals Mary’s secret to us. Elizabeth calls Mary blessed because she believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. God told Mary that her Son was to be the Savior of the world. And Mary believed it. So strong was her belief that she was willing to receive Jesus into her womb as an unwed mother, and, years later, to have his lifeless body placed in her arms after it had been taken down from the cross. So great was her trust, that even in the midst of her trials, she is able to sing a beautiful song of praise to God. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… And not just Mary’s soul, but also her body: Mary’s whole being is a song of praise, a Magnificat to the Lord.

Such then is the brilliance of the flames that fly from the rocket that is Mary’s life on earth. Her whole existence had but one purpose: to bear Christ to the world. And if rockets can fly into space by shooting flames onto the ground, is it not reasonable to believe that Mary was assumed into heaven because she first helped to bring heaven to earth?

But that is not all. There is something about the Feast of the Assumption that goes beyond even a rocket’s flight. Although we may feel excited by it, unless we are astronauts, or multi-millionaires, it is not very likely that we’ll be able to take a ride in a rocket, at least not in the near future. But things are different with the Assumption. For today’s feast is not just a celebration of Mary. As the scripture scholars tell us, the woman in labor that we find in the first reading represents more than just the Blessed Virgin Mary. She also stands for the Church. She represents you and me. Like Mary, we too are chosen to be carriers of rocket fuel, bearers of Christ to the world. Like Mary, we too are called to put our trust in God, to bear our trials for love of others, and so to be assumed into the heavenly heights. And isn’t it especially important for us to hear and to answer this call today, when even in a place like Santa Barbara – a place as close to heaven on earth as one can get – the newspapers continue to speak to us of homeless people dying in the streets?

Sisters and brothers, on this Feast of the Assumption, are we ready for lift-off?


  1. Glad to see you posting again, Fr Chris. A very happy feast of Assumption to you!

    Hahaha! From now on, when I see a rocket, I'm going to be reminded of Mother Mary and how we are all called to carry "rocket fuel" and to bring heaven to earth. What a marvellous analogy! :)

    As for whether we'll be ready for lift off, not so sure about that. When I am, I'll drop you another message.

  2. (Sharing a reflection on meeting a homeless person beside a French church one Spring.....) You, Lord,
    holding out his hand..asking for..
    my tentative heart to open.

    Homeless....for my sake...
    that I thaw.... move my heart...

    You could have passed me by,
    but you sought me out;
    sought me out though
    you could have passed me by.

    to thaw my tentative heart,
    holding out Your hand, asking...
    ....for me.


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