Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
No Matter What!
We are on sacred ground. Caught up in holiness the sacred suspends time and expands truth so that our poor language and images can convey it to our senses. A set of words and images conveying deep truth is called myth.
A sacred myth is not a lie because it contains and conveys truth. Fr. Snow tells you many myths because, as he says, every story contains truth.
One feature of truth, of holy truth, of sacred myth, is that it answers longings of the human heart. One human longing has long been relief, liberation from what oppresses and enslaves us. Humans long to be saved, and they have longed for a person to do that, a savior. While savior is a religious term, we use it non-religious, practical ways. A woman, stranded by the roadside with a flat tire, may describe the AAA representative, who drove up in the tow-truck, as her savior that day.
In ancient literature stars, not letters, heralded the arrival of important people, including saviors./1/ Scripture made use of literary conventions to speak sensibly to their first audiences and so speak to their hearts.
The Book of Revelation needed to use convention for another, important reason. In order to comfort the greatest number of people suffering on account of their faith, it had to use accepted conventions so that would-be persecutors would not suspect the Book of Revelation any more than possible. Its central section, from which we heard a portion as our first reading, used a myth widespread in its world telling of the defeat of the power of evil and liberation from it.
Its heavenly woman, giving birth to a savior, was pursued by a dragon, the embodiment of evil. By miraculous intervention, she was saved and gave birth to a son, the embodiment of goodness, who killed the monster. The message: God is in control of history, the myth announced. Christians, put your faith in Jesus. Take heart and be confident, no matter what!
The birth, death and resurrection of Mary’s son fulfilled the truth of sacred myths. The heavenly woman of the myth of the first reading is not Mary because the heavenly woman of the myth wailed aloud in pain as he labored to give birth. She was not immune to original sin. Mary’s virgin birth, our faith guides us, was without pain or any distress: Mary was without sin, and Christ's birth did not diminish her virginal
Even the very conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb moved her to alleviate distress, starting with her visit to her relative Elizabeth, finally with child herself. But what is more holy, more sacred and more true is the holy Spirit of God, who conceived Jesus in her.
In Mary’s womb, heart, limbs and senses God continued God’s reversal of sin and evil in the person of Mary’s son. God’s ageless mercy dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart...but lifted up the lowly; filled the hungry with good things but sent the rich empty away; and the powerful had less than those who show mercy.
All this | Mary’s Yes to God’s invitation | set in motion, and her Son completed her Yes to God’s invitation by his living, dying and rising. Jesus invited disciples to join him and to continue his mission of completing his mother’s Yes to God’s invitation.
Mary’s Assumption speaks of our destiny for salvation, which happens to us who, like Mary, respond Yes to her son’s invitation to give our hearts, limbs, senses, our whole selves to become wombs to give birth to him each day and give God’s ageless mercy flesh and blood to check power, reverse arrogance, fill the hungry, empower the poor, comfort the sick and dying and restore dignity where it is lost or trampled by the world. Our Messiah Jesus is the one who saves. He invites us to join his saving mission by imitating his mother’s Yes. To begin to respond, ask for the grace to follow Mary’s example and her lead with generous hearts and great confidence, no matter what!
/1/Virgil, Aeneid, Bk. II.692: a falling-star confirmed the future of the New Troy, around Aenaeas’ son, Iulus, the poem’s namesake of the Julius family, of whom Julius Caesar is depicted as the savior of Rome, the New Troy.
/2/ Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium), 67.
Wiki-image of El Greco's Assumption is in the public domain.