Weight-lifting on the Assumption

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

If you are looking for an appropriate way to observe today’s Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may I suggest weight-lifting.

Today’s feast is a celebration of strength.  The strength we celebrate today is more than that shown by Olympic weightlifters—though it includes a little of that—more than the moral strength of a figure like Rosa Parks—though it includes that too—more than the geo-political strength projected by a squadron of B-21 bombers—though that’s not absent either.  Add to all of these the strength of a cosmic force—like the gravity of the sun or the moon tugging at the tides—and you get an idea of the strength we’re dealing with. 

Mary is not often praised for her strength.  Her wisdom, her purity, her clemency, her holiness—all true, all worthy of praise—but we don’t hear much about her strength.  But consider, the first level of strength, the purely physical.  In the Gospel passage chosen for today’s celebration, Mary, very young and pregnant, visits her cousin Elizabeth.  What is not apparent to the casual reader is that Elizabeth does not live next door; she lives a hundred miles away from Nazareth in Ein Karem near Jerusalem, and Mary had to walk there.  After Elizabeth gave birth, Mary, now six-months pregnant, had to walk back to Nazareth.  And then, nine months pregnant, another hundred-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Then, nursing her baby, an even longer trek through the desert into Egypt to escape King Herod’s scheme to kill the new-born Messiah, an event obliquely referred to in the first reading from Revelation.  Mary was tough.

And read her song to Elizabeth.  Mary sings of political upheaval.  She knows that what is happening in her will cast the mighty down from their thrones.  In a way, Mary brings about the final ruin not just of Herod but of all the Herods who ever lived.  Better than Top Gun.  

When it comes to moral strength, to doing the right thing whatever the odds, think only of the scene in the Gospel that comes immediately before Mary’s visit to Elizabeth—the Annunciation, Mary’s unqualified “yes” to God.  As St. Paul points out in first Corinthians, in Adam, we all say “no” to God.  Adam and Eve folded before the snake’s deceit, and nobody else did much better afterwards. We might muster a “yes, but” or “well, kinda,” “a little bit, let’s be reasonable.”    But Mary, faced with the angel—and angels in the Bible are never the cute cherubs we put on Christmas trees, they’re God’s warriors—Mary, asked to do what no other human being had ever done, gives an unqualified, absolute “yes” to God.

I do not need to add what Mary endured during the Lord’s passion.  Mary knew that unimaginable ache of losing a child.  Luke’s Gospel speaks of the passion as a sword that pierced her heart.  And from the cross, Jesus offers Mary to the Church to be our mother, to care for us.  I cannot prove this, but I imagine that on that bleakest day of human history, the Saturday after the crucifixion, when the Lord of life lay silent and murdered in the tomb, after the betrayal of Judas and Peter’s failure, it was Mary who held the disciples together, who insisted, like mothers do, that they still needed to get up and eat something.

Today’s feast is the celebration of the strength that Mary showed in this life, the grit of the pregnant teenager tramping over the rocky soil of Judea, her “yes” to Gabriel in defiance of the serpent’s ancient lie; it is a celebration of the fact that that young girl’s human strength allowed something to happen that was more than human.  Mary’s strength was a work of cosmic significance, like the formation of galaxies or the Big Bang.  What Mary did forever altered what it means to be.  Today we celebrate Mary’s Assumption, the fact that God took her soul and body into heaven.  Mary’s life means the abolition of the limitations death places on our existence.  No longer does the story of the body end only in decay.  The infant triumphs forever over the tyrant.  Death collapses on itself.  The teenage girl in Nazareth silences the dragon.  Today’s victory is Mary’s, and it is ours.  For the woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet and crowned with the stars, waits for us and, now and forever, prays for us sinners.

Readings: Rv 11:19A; 12:1-6A; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1:39-56

August 15, 2022

St. Isaac Jogues, Rapid City, SD

Author: Anthony Lusvardi, SJ

Anthony R. Lusvardi, S.J., teaches sacramental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He writes on a variety of theological, cultural, and literary topics.

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