Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Assumption of Mary: It Reminds Us of THE GOAL and It Reminds Us of WHAT IT TAKES TO REACH THE GOAL!

Michael Phelps with one of his many gold medals

(Assumption 2012: This homily was given on August 15, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Luke 1: 39-46.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Assumption 2012]

It was my favorite commercial that debuted during the Olympics.  I’m sure many of you saw it.

It opens with footage of a swimmer’s hands entering the pool at the beginning of a race (the camera angle creates the illusion that you are the swimmer).  Then the swimmer’s voice is heard: “Take a day off?  I don’t even take a morning off.”

Next we see the hands of a gymnast on a high bar, holding on tightly as he swings his body around the bar during a routine.  Then his voice is heard: “I haven’t ordered dessert in two years.”

Next we see the hands of a cyclist on her bike, and we hear her voice in the background: “You know that best-selling book everyone loves?  I haven’t read it.”

Finally, we see a shot of a discus in a man’s hand as he’s spinning his body round and round, preparing himself to throw it, and we hear his voice say, “I haven’t watched TV since last summer.  Hey, I’ve been busy!”

I liked this commercial when I saw it for two reasons: number 1, because it implicitly reminds us of the goal of Olympic competition—a gold medal; and number 2, because it reminds us of the price that the winners have to pay in order to reach their desired goal: the diet, the sacrifice, the discipline, the exercise, the years of intense and exhausting training.

Many athletes today want the glory!  They want to win gold medals.  They want to be Olympic champions.  In fact, I’m sure that lots of young athletes here in the United States and throughout the world watched these Olympic Games during the last few weeks and dreamed as they watched!  They each dreamed of standing exactly where Michael Phelps and all the other gold medalists stood after their victories: on the top of the medal podium listening to their country’s national anthem being played.

But how many of those same athletes are willing to pay the price that Michael Phelps and the other champions paid to get to the top of the podium?

Probably very few.

Many want the glory, but very few are willing to go through what they need to go through to obtain the glory.

So what does all this have to do with the feast that we celebrate in the Church today: the Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption into heaven?

Simple.  This feast is like that Olympic commercial, in the sense that it also reminds us of the goal (in this case, the ultimate goal of human existence—heaven); and it reminds us of what it takes to get there!

In today’s gospel, Mary calls God her “Savior”.  And that’s true.  Mary was saved by her divine Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by being preserved from original sin in that event we call the Immaculate Conception.  Mary, in other words, never lacked sanctifying grace in her soul.  The rest of us do lack this grace when we come into the world, which is why we need baptism; hence St. Peter makes the statement in his first letter that baptism is what “saves” us (1 Peter 3: 21).

And Mary never sinned throughout her entire life; thus, at the end of her time here on earth she was given another unique privilege: she was taken up into heaven soul AND body.

The rest of us who experience salvation will have to wait until the end of the world to have our bodies resurrected and reunited with our souls in the Lord’s eternal Kingdom.  But for Mary it’s already happened!  That’s the meaning of today’s feast. 

And yet Mary’s path to the goal was anything but easy!  It was tough—extremely tough: certainly tougher than anything our Olympic athletes had to deal with on their paths to glory.  She had to deal with poverty; she had to face misunderstanding (she was even misunderstood, for a time, by her saintly husband, Joseph).  She had to flee from a crazy king who wanted to kill her and her family; she was forced to live for awhile as a refugee in a foreign country; she lived for 33 years with the knowledge that someday a painful “sword” would pierce her soul; and one day it did—the day she was forced to watch her only Son die a horrible death.

And yet, through it all, Mary remained God’s lowly and faithful servant, always choosing to do what God wanted her to do, even when it required incredible self-sacrifice on her part.  For example, in today’s gospel it says that Mary stayed with her cousin Elizabeth for about 3 months.


She did that because her cousin Elizabeth needed her!  Remember, Elizabeth was old—very old—and 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist!  Mary knew that, and went to help her cousin get through the final months of what had to be a very difficult pregnancy.

Of course, Mary was also pregnant and probably could have used some help herself.

But our Blessed Mother never thought of herself first.  She was completely selfless.

Like that Olympic commercial, the feast of Mary’s Assumption reminds us of the goal, and it reminds us of the price that must be paid to reach it: the price that Mary paid during her visit to Elizabeth and throughout her entire life: the price of selflessness and self-sacrifice; the price of purity, forgiveness, patience and charity (even toward her enemies)—in a word, the price of holiness.

May the Lord give us a desire—an “Olympic desire”—to pay that price like Mary did, each and every day, so that the prize she won in her life (which is infinitely greater than a gold medal) will someday be ours.