Friday, August 15, 2008

Jesus, the ‘firstfruits’; Mary, the ‘secondfruits’; You and I, the ‘thirdfruits’

(Assumption 2008: This homily was given on August 15, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 Corinthians 15: 20-27; Luke 1: 39-46.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Assumption 2008]

The Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate each year on December 8th, reminds us that Mary was different from us in one very important respect: she was conceived without original sin. She was also different from us in other ways. For example, she never committed a single sin in her entire life (no one of us can make that claim!), and she was different in that she had a unique calling from God to be the physical mother of the Savior of the world!

But today’s feast, the Assumption of Mary into heaven, reminds us that Mary was also like us in one very important way: she was a human person, who had a human body—a body that was made for earth and which had the potential to be “re-made” for heaven!

Today Catholics throughout the world gather to proclaim that this “potential” in our Blessed Mother became a reality on the day she was assumed into heaven. In today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 15, we are told that when Jesus rose from the dead in his human body he was “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Well, I suppose you could say that the teaching of the Church is that Mary was the “secondfruits”. According to the dogma of the Assumption, Mary was taken up into heaven, body and soul, at the end of her earthly life. The Lord did not allow her flesh to decay in the grave. This was one aspect of her “blessedness”—a blessedness that she herself prophesied in the Magnificat when she said, “From this day all generations will call me blessed.”

The ultimate blessing for Mary was to be taken to heaven, body and soul, to be with her Divine Son in eternal glory.

Which brings us to what I would call “the thirdfruits”—US!

Jesus was the firstfruits because he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, body and soul, by his power as God. Mary was the secondfruits because Jesus raised up her body when her earthly life was over, and brought her into his kingdom, body and soul.

We are the thirdfruits because what happened to Mary will happen to those of us who die in the state of grace. With one difference: It won’t happen to us at the same time that it happened to the Blessed Mother; in other words, it won’t happen when we die! (I always like to review this on the feast of the Assumption, because many Catholics are unclear about it.) The Church’s teaching, based on the Sacred Scriptures, is that when we die our souls are separated from our bodies. Our souls go either to heaven, hell, or purgatory.

However, our bodies go into the grave; and, unless they’re preserved by some special miracle, they decompose there. But they will be raised up again: at the end of time—at the Final Judgment—and at that point they will be reunited with our souls. Then everyone will go—soul and body—either to heaven or hell; purgatory will cease to exist.

We call Mary “our hope” in the Hail, Holy Queen because we hope that what happened to her at the Assumption will happen to us at the end of the world. And so, in the preface for this Mass (which we will hear in a few moments), the priest says, “Today the virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection [the Church, remember, is us!], and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way.”

Ultimately the feast of the Assumption is a reminder that the true goal of life is not to make a six-figure salary, or to “make-it” in the eyes of the world. The Assumption tells us that the true goal of life is heaven, and that it’s not only our souls but also our bodies that are meant to reside there forever (without all the aches and pains and imperfections that we have here on earth, of course!).

We sometimes say that Jesus died to save our souls. And that’s right—but it’s really only half-right. It’s much more accurate to say that Jesus died to save us, soul AND body.

This is why the Church teaches that our bodies are important, and that what we do to them and with them and for them matters!

Hedonists will sometimes accuse the Church of teaching that the body is “dirty”—as if the Church believes that the body doesn’t matter as much as the soul matters. Hopefully you now see what a lie that is! People who tell you to “do whatever you feel like doing” with your body are actually the ones who think that the body doesn’t matter. They’re the ones who say, “It’s my body and I’ll do whatever I want with it.”

The Church says, “No, your bodies deserve better! Your bodies deserve respect and care—they should never be abused with alcohol or drugs or promiscuous activity or through violence—simply because your bodies are made to reside forever with God!

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, that we will learn the lesson of your Assumption and treat ourselves—and our brothers and sisters—accordingly, always keeping in mind that their bodies and ours will someday be raised and glorified, just like yours and just like your Divine Son’s.