Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Assumption of Mary: It Reminds Us That Heaven is for the Holy!

(Assumption 2004: This homily was given on August 15, 2004, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Revelation 12: 1-10; Luke 1: 39-56.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Assumption 2004]

A priest was saying Mass for some young children one Sunday, and during the homily he said to them, “How many of you want to go to heaven someday? If you want to go to heaven, raise your hand.”

Every little hand immediately went up.

Then the priest said, “And how many of you want to be saints?”

The children began to look at one another quizzically; a few scratched their heads; and eventually most of them put their hands down.

The priest said, “Well, that’s a problem, boys and girls, because only saints go to heaven! So let me ask you one more time, ‘How many of you want to be saints?’”

Not surprisingly, all the hands went up again!

That’s a true story; it really happened. And it shouldn’t surprise us, because those little children were thinking just like many adults think. You see, in the minds of many adults today there is very little if any connection between holiness and heaven. The link between those two realities has been almost completely severed. Consequently, they talk as if heaven is open to everyone, no questions asked.

But that’s not true! As those little children learned that Sunday, heaven is for the holy—and only for the holy! It’s for those who have been made holy by union with Jesus Christ in Baptism, and who have been purified of every subsequent sin they ever committed and every sinful attachment they ever experienced! The Book of Revelation says, “Nothing profane shall enter [God’s kingdom].” Nothing! That’s why the author of Hebrews urges us to “Strive for that holiness without which no one can see the Lord.”

A couple of weeks ago I went to a funeral at another parish, and the priest giving the homily said that he knew the deceased woman was now in heaven. He never mentioned hell. Nor did he mention purgatory (which he should have!)—not even as a remote possibility!

He said what he said in an attempt to console the family, but what he ended up doing was trivializing heaven!

No wonder we don’t get excited about the idea of going there! Face it, in the minds of many people heaven is nothing more than a boring imitation of earth, where people float around with harps and pray all the time.

But that’s not how St. Paul described it! He said, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Is there prayer and worship in heaven? Of course there is! With one difference: In heaven the saints see God face to face when they worship. That rules out boredom! As St. Paul put it, “Now [i.e. here, on earth] we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.”

If we are among those who trivialize heaven, then today’s feast will mean little or nothing to us. It’s only when we begin in some small way to appreciate the true blessings of God’s eternal kingdom—it’s only then that Mary’s Assumption gives us real joy and real hope.

St. John in today’s first reading from Revelation 12 sees a vision of a woman in heavenly glory who gives birth to the Messiah. This text points us to the reality of Mary’s Assumption. She is that woman in glory!

In today’s Gospel text from Luke 1 Mary calls God her Savior, and says that God has done great things for her.

The dogma of the Assumption teaches us that at the end of her life Mary was taken up, body and soul into God’s eternal kingdom. This—along with her Immaculate Conception—was Mary’s personal experience of salvation.

It would also be true to say that the Assumption was the ultimate reward of Mary’s personal holiness! It was God’s greatest gift to her. Remember, heaven is for the holy! By the grace of God, Mary was sinless; she was perfectly faithful and holy; thus, she was ready for heaven the very moment her life on this earth came to an end.

The Assumption of Mary also reminds us of the ultimate destiny of the saints! As she is right now, so shall all the saints be at the end of time when their souls are reunited with their bodies. And the good news is, we are all called “to be in that number” as the old song goes “when [those] saints go marching in.”

Can you think of a better reason to examine your conscience every day?

Can you think of a better reason to go to Confession if you miss Mass or commit some other mortal sin?

Can you think of a better reason to get your marital situation straightened out if you’re presently married outside the Church?

Can you think of a better reason to pray and to work at improving your relationship with God every day?

Maybe you can. But, quite frankly, I can’t!