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home : bishop : columns

8/18/2016 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
The Assumption is a revelation
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


At the risk of making a bad pun, the Assumption stands for much more than we might just assume.

The solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven is observed every Aug. 15. Although Monday's celebration was not a holy day of obligation, it was still a holy day which has much to teach -- not only about Mary, but also about our own destiny.

The Assumption is indeed a day for celebrating the triumph of Mary over death -- in her mortal body. Tradition holds that Mary did not actually pass into death. Her earthly life just came to an end. When she breathed her last earthly breath, her flesh did not begin to decompose. Instead, God assumed her directly into the glory of heaven, body and soul.

An early Christian feast dating back to the fifth century in the East celebrated the dormition ("falling asleep") of Mary. Never has her body been found; nor have her relics been preserved, as was the case with many of the apostles and saints as far back as the first century.

Thus, people of faith believed for centuries in the Assumption of Mary long before His Holiness Pope Pius XII, after consultation, proclaimed it a dogma (a teaching essential to the Catholic faith) of the Church on Nov. 1, 1950.

It almost had to happen. Mary had been conceived without original sin and, sinless from her conception to the end of her life, it did not seem fitting that she would experience the corruption of the body that all sinful creatures do. But Mary's Assumption is also a bonus for us. The mother of God is also the mother of the Church. Where she has gone, we hope to follow. Mary, first of all, was a human being.

Contrary to the false impressions of some non-Catholics, we never worship Mary as some kind of a goddess. Her many representations in statues and pictures are not magical charms that contain special powers. Like all superstitions, such false notions about the power of objects are another form of idolatry or belief in false gods.

To stretch our imaginations for a moment, the Assumption of Mary invites us to think not only of the body of Mary and its many artistic (or maybe not so artistic) renditions, but of our own bodies, as well.

The human body is not evil. God did not intend it to be cast aside and destroyed. We know that the resurrection teaches us that Jesus was raised, soul and divinity -- and body. The Assumption reminds us that our goal in heaven, like Mary's, is not just a spiritual reality, but includes our resurrected bodies. To be human means to be an embodied spirit.

In the heat and humidity of summer, the absence of heavy clothing brings awareness of body shapes and figures and wrinkles and tan lines. Except for the fabulous few, it is often a time of consciousness of the limitations of the flesh -- as well as its temptations.

For Catholic Christians who look to Mary as our model of purity and our glorious future with God, it can also be a boost for our morale. No matter what reflection one might leave in the mirror or any fashionable set of standards, in God's eyes each of us is beautiful and a reflection of the image of His incarnate Son, Jesus.

Mary reminds us that women have special place in God's plan to lead us heavenward. She gives us all a lift in the middle of summer - especially those of us most burdened by our body and its ills and temptations.

Of course, we believe that Jesus died and rose in His mortal flesh. But something else we might ponder: There is a body of a woman in heaven. One of our species made it!

It is perfectly fitting that the woman who gave Jesus His mortal flesh shares with Him the state we all hope to enjoy at the end of time -- or, if Mary's experience is any prelude to what those who trust in the Lord might anticipate at the hour of death, perhaps even sooner.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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