Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Picture: cc Liu Tao
Sisters and brothers, are you familiar with White Rabbit candy? It’s a brand of sweets that I used to enjoy as a child. Especially at Chinese New Year. Do you know what I liked so much about it? It wasn’t the taste. Which was sweet and creamy. As you might expect any milk candy to be. Nothing remarkable. No, what I liked most was actually not so much the candy itself but the wrapper. As some of you may recall, the candy is wrapped in a thin layer of rice paper. So that instead of throwing that wrapper away. As you would for other candies. You can actually eat it as well. I remember being so amazed by this as a child that I sometimes carefully removed the rice paper and ate it on its own. Again, not because it tasted good. It was actually quite bland. But simply because I was thrilled at the thought of being able to eat something that was usually discarded. To enjoy something usually considered good for nothing except to be thrown away.
Wrappers that are meant to be saved and enjoyed. Instead of simply being thrown away. Sisters and brothers, strange as it may sound, this is the image that comes to mind on this Solemn Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As you know, this feast celebrates what we believe happened to our Blessed Mother at the end of her life on earth. Instead of suffering death and decay, as the rest of us do, we believe that she was assumed body and soul into heaven. Our Mass readings invite us to think of this experience of hers as a great victory. An experience of God’s power to save.
The first reading does this by describing a vision. A woman in labour is threatened by a great red dragon. But God saves both the woman and her newborn son from the dragon. The woman is hidden and cared for in the desert. The son taken to God and made king. The reading ends by singing the praises of God. Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the persecutor… has been brought down. God has won a great victory over the devil. And this victory is enjoyed not just by Mary. For the woman in the reading represents not just our Blessed Mother. But also all of us. You and me. Her vulnerable children. Members of the Church. The body of her firstborn son. God has saved us as well.
Using more direct language, the second reading speaks of this victory won by God for us as a triumph of life over death. Just as all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ…. and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet. In Christ, God has saved all of us from death and destruction. From sin and selfishness. From all the things that make life miserable. Because of the dying and rising of Christ, death is no longer something for us to fear. No longer a terrifying dead end. But an inviting doorway. Ushering us into the gentle embrace of a loving and merciful God. Leading us into the glorious hallways of heaven.
It is in anticipation of this same victory that Mary sings the praises of God in the gospel. The Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name…. He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart…. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy… according to the promise he made… to Abraham and to his descendants for ever. Mary sings of God’s power to save. The same power that will later lead her to name her son Jesus. Which means God saves.
Sisters and brothers, this is what we celebrate today. Not just Mary’s salvation. But ours as well. Not just Mary’s entrance into heaven. But ours as well. Mary’s Assumption anticipates what we believe will happen to us at the end of time. When Christ comes again.
But that’s not all, sisters and brothers. At least not for me. For there is one very important aspect of the Assumption that I especially need to keep before my eyes. An important reminder. And I only begin to realise my need for this reminder when I ask myself questions such as these: When I think of Mary, or even of myself, being saved by God, and being led into the halls of heaven, what exactly do I think is saved? What do I think will end up in heaven? What will I find there? I’m not sure about you, sisters and brothers. But I tend to think only of immaterial, intangible, purely spiritual beings. Which is understandable. For when I die, my material body will be left behind. To be cremated or buried. And, God willing, my spirit or soul will be brought to heaven. Which leads me to think of my body as something not unlike a useless candy wrapper that God will simply discard. So as to enjoy the sweetness of my soul alone.
What I too easily forget is that this is but a temporary situation. For, as a Christian, I profess to believe in the resurrection of the body. I believe that Christ rose from the dead not just in the spirit. But also in the flesh. Even if in a glorified form. And Mary was assumed both soul and body into heaven. This is our belief. Such that, at the end of time, heaven will be filled not just with souls. But also with bodies. Glorified bodies. And not just human bodies. But also the rest of this material world of ours. For as St. Paul writes in the letter to the Romans: We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves… groan inwardly while we wait for... the redemption of our bodies (8:22-23).
This, my dear friends, is the important reminder, the crucial lesson, that the Assumption offers us today. That God wishes to save not just souls, but also bodies. Not just the purely spiritual. But also the material. Indeed, properly understood, the spiritual does not exclude the material. As Pope Francis has written in his most recent Encyclical, Laudato si’, the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us (LS216).
This reminder has implications. Not just for when I die. But also for how I live. For if God saves not just my soul, but also my body. Not just the intangible, but also the material. Then I have a responsibility to care for this very important dimension of life as well. To work hard. But also to rest. To pray fervently. But also to reach out to those most in need. To use the good things of our world. But also to protect and preserve them as best I can. For the benefit of future generations. To resist the temptation to treat things and even people like useless candy wrappers. To be exploited for my own selfish purposes. And then carelessly discarded. Thrown away. And forgotten.
In the gospel, Mary gives us an example of this care, not just for the intangible, but also for the material. When she hears that her elderly cousin is with child, she rushes to her side. Travelling through the hill country of Judah. Not just to bring her the interior joy of the Spirit. But also to help see to her external material needs.
Sisters and brothers, perhaps the Feast of the Assumption is not unlike a piece of White Rabbit candy. It reminds us that sometimes even wrappers are meant to be saved and not discarded. To be treated with care and respect. And not simply exploited and then forgotten. How are you treating the candy wrappers in your life today?