One of my favorite courses in seminary was an elective class we had on the virtues and their corresponding vices. The virtues are the gifts we are given from God at our baptism and by virtue of being born into this world. Among them is the virtue of hope.
Now when I say “hope” to you what comes to mind?
I suppose on any given day I’d say as a Vikings fan I hope the Vikes win and the Packers lose. As one who can’t stand winter I’d say I hope winter does not come this year. I’d use it to talk about things I’d like to see happen, but that’s not what hope is about.
Hope can be summed up best as we have a hope for heaven, but we live out that future hope right here in this world in the here and the now. As such, we do not say as Catholics “I’m saved.” Certainly we are loved by God, but talk is cheap. It needs to be backed up by action. A Christian who is on fire with hope is someone who is so in love with God that they want to go to heaven, but take seriously the words of Jesus to wash the feet of one another and to love others as He loved them. Jesus was focused on the Father, but that meant living out His mission here on earth.
So what of His mother, Mary? We venerate Mary quite a bit as Catholics, but just like with hope if asked what hope is, we might have a hard time defining Mary exactly. Particularly you may find confusion among Protestants (though Martin Luther who began the reformation had a deep Marian devotion, more on that perhaps for a future column). Some might think she isn’t all that significant; others the fourth member of the Trinity, or perhaps some super saint above the rest. Really though Mary for us is a sign of someone who lived out faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues. Someone who didn’t know where God was leading her, but put all her trust into God by bringing Jesus into the world.
After that “yes” at the Annunciation, Mary lived out her faith in so many ways. In the Gospel for the Assumption, we see an example in the story of the Visitation, where Mary visits Elizabeth. She goes out of her way to help her cousin, not something she was required to do, but something she wanted to do. As the years go by, Mary will always be close to her Son. Even on Good Friday, when the sword pierces her heart, she remains faithful to God. Her reward for this is sainthood, being assumed body and soul into heaven. Her uniqueness is being born without original sin; but she had free will her whole life, and her choice was trust. Commitment. Love. Dedication.
You won’t find the Assumption in the Bible. This is where the big “T” comes in: Tradition. It was always celebrated for centuries, and declared a dogma by Pius XII in 1950. Quite a good time for it if you look at history, with wars raging, the Iron Curtain descending on Europe, and numerous problems all over the world with racism and violence. Pius in declaring this dogma which was already held by our Church (for had Mary died and not been assumed, certainly the early Christians would have venerated her tomb) Pius gave the world a sign of hope – someone to look to.
So what that means for us is to look to Mary, but to challenge ourselves. To not be content doing the bare minimum our faith requires, but to always ask ourselves how can I take it to the next level. How can I be better at how I live my faith. How can I be a person of charity and love. How can I overcome the nagging sins in my life. Like Mary, how can I be a sign of love in this world to all from those under my roof to the people at work and school to the new people I will meet. Inside us all is such power to be like Mary, the Theotokos or “God Bearer.”
Finally, Mary also does so much for us too to bring us closer to God. As someone in heaven who was always close to Jesus, we ask for her intercession. This is why we pray not “to” Mary but “through” Mary. We ask her to pray with us and to help us, much like we do with our earthly mothers too. Most Catholics know the words to the “Hail Mary,” but as such a familiar prayer it’s worth thinking about the actual words from time to time that we pray. Mary is holy and can help us become holy; Mary prays for us as sinners because she loves us; now and at the hour of our death meaning she is always with us as she was with Jesus. Mary is full of grace and we are too with the Holy Spirit. The Lord is with her and is with us. Mary helped Jesus through so much in His life and the same is true with us.
This Tuesday, August 15th, we honor our blessed Mother with the Assumption, a Holy Day of Obligation. We’ll have two Masses, at8:30 am and then again in the evening at 6 pm
Have a blessed week, ~Fr. Paul