Monday, August 15, 2011

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab / 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 / Luke 1:39-56

There is a special joy in receiving a gift that is neither asked for nor expected. Not a gift, in other words, that we thought we wanted, but rather something delightful, something that satisfies a longing we did not even know we had. Such a gift reveals to us something about ourselves, about what leads to our happiness, what it is we truly desire. It also tells us at least as much, if not more, about how well and how deeply we are both known and loved by the gift-giver.

The whole life of the Blessed Virgin Mary was marked precisely by this kind of joy. Her conception was not merely the answer to the longing of an infertile couple even as God had so blessed the barren Matriarchs and Patriarchs of old. It was, beyond that expectation and longing, an immaculate conception, free from the stain of original sin, the daughter so conceived from that very first moment full of grace, greater in honor than the Cherubim and glorious incomparably more than the Seraphim. She was not merely looked upon in her lowliness and called blessed by her peers, but by all generations, recognized by her kinswoman as worthy of all praise because she was to be the mother not merely of a good son, nor only of a Savior as promised to Abraham and to his children forever, but the Mother of God incarnate, even while gifted with retaining her virginity. At the close of her earthly life, she was not merely united to her Son in heaven with the saints, but came to share from the time of her passing from this world in the bodily resurrection of glory which her Son enjoys, the fruit of the victory of Jesus Christ and for which we all await until the Judgment on the Last Day, she possessed already by divine gift.

This joy of an unlooked for gift is the mark not only of the life of the Virgin, although even this would be a grace and a gift, that one whom we love and who loves us so dearly should be so endowed by the Lord. Even so, receiving unexpected and glorious gifts from God is the mark of every authentic Christian life. We can, of course, live in confidence and hope that we will share in the resurrection on the Last Day, the promise we know through Jesus Christ the firstfruits, and through its first unfolding in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary body and soul into heaven. God, however, never repeats his gifts. Every work of his grace is like a new work of art, and so for each and every one of us, there is some unlooked for, some unexpected gift in store for us.

This is why the mystery of the Assumption is more than a part of the story of the Virgin Mother of the Lord. It is, rather, both the foreshadowing and the pattern of the joyful surprises that await us in the life of grace. God is a gift-giver with wonderful and heart-breakingly glorious gifts in store for us. Are we ready, as was Elizabeth at the visitation of the Virgin Mother, whose Assumption we celebrate today, to receive God's holy surprises with an eager heart and grateful joy?

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