Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mary’s Ultimate Destiny—and Ours!

Timothy Hutton and Kelly McGillis in the film "Made in Heaven"

(Solemnity of the Assumption 2013: This homily was given on August 15, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Revelation 11:19a; 12: 1-10; Luke 1: 39-56.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Assumption 2013]


The other night I watched a movie on TV entitled, “Made in Heaven.”  It was a 1987 film that starred Timothy Hutton and Kelly McGillis.  Hutton plays a young man named Mike Shea, who drowns as he’s helping a woman and her children escape from their car, which has just gone off the road and into a river.

I watched this movie for a specific reason.  I wanted to see exactly how heaven was portrayed in it.  So often these days, in movies and in novels and on television programs and in popular songs, God’s eternal kingdom is depicted in a very strange way.  Hopefully you’ve noticed.  It’s depicted as being almost exactly like earth!  Life in heaven is portrayed as being almost exactly like life here—sometimes even including the presence of sin and other imperfections! 

And that, I’m sorry to say, turned out to be the way it was in this particular film.  In fact, heaven in this movie was pretty much a place where souls went after death while they waited to be reincarnated back on earth!  It was not a place where people lived eternally and joyfully in God’s loving presence.  (Now, just in case anyone here is not clear on the matter, we as Catholics do not believe in reincarnation!  As Hebrews 9: 27 reminds us, we each die ONE TIME, and after death we are judged.  There are no “second-times-around” or “do-overs” with respect to this earthly existence—which is why we need to “get it right” the first time!)

This film also portrayed heaven as a place where bad language and fornication are allowed—along with almost every other sin (with the exception, I suppose, of murder.  Murder, after all, would be impossible, simply because all the people in heaven are already dead!)

Today we celebrate the feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven—the REAL heaven!  This teaching of the Church, which was officially promulgated in 1950 but is part of the Deposit of Faith that goes back to the Apostles, reads as follows: “ . . . the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”

Mary’s Assumption reminds us of our ultimate destiny at the end of time—if we leave this life in the state of grace.  When we physically die our souls are separated from our bodies, and they go either to heaven, hell or purgatory.  But even those people whose souls go to heaven directly (or who go to heaven after passing through purgatory) will be without their bodies until the resurrection of the dead at the end of time.  But when Mary’s earthly life was over, her body and soul were not separated; rather, they were assumed—taken—by God, into heaven.  One of the pieces of evidence we have for this is that, in the early Church, no one ever claimed to have relics of the Blessed Mother!  No one ever claimed to have relics from her earthly body, because there were no relics from her body to be had!

Her body was already glorified and in heaven. 

So the bottom line is this: In anticipation of what will happen to all the saints at the end of time (and that includes, hopefully, you and me), Mary has already entered the kingdom of heaven soul AND body!

That’s what the feast of the Assumption is all about.

This means that the life of heaven will ultimately involve our entire being (our soul and our body—our resurrected body), and will be far greater than anything we can or will experience here on this earth!  For those who are blessed to enter it, heaven will be a place of perfection—absolute perfection: a place where death (and everything that goes along with death, such as sickness and suffering) gets “swallowed up in victory” (to coin a phrase from St. Paul).

Even if there were such a thing as reincarnation, the fact is that people who are in heaven—the real heaven—would reject it!  They’d want no part of it!  I mean, why would they want to trade a life of absolute perfection for a life back in this “valley of tears”?

I sure wouldn’t!

St. Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians 12 that he once had a profound spiritual experience in which he had a brief glimpse of heaven.  (That, by the way, is the most anyone ever gets on this side of the grave: a brief, veiled glimpse of heaven.  Paul had one.  I’m not so sure about Dr. Eben Alexander, who spoke in Westerly this week.  I recently read his book, and I have some questions about his experience.)

St. Paul, who had that incredible experience, also wrote these words: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Please keep that truth in mind the next time you see a movie, or read a book, or hear a song about heaven.  As soon as we begin to imagine God’s eternal kingdom with our finite human minds, we fall short.  (And sometimes, as was the case with the movie I saw the other night, “Made in Heaven,” we fall really short!)  Yes, it’s true, the Bible compares heaven to earthly things like a wedding banquet and a beautiful city, but we need to understand that these are just images that God gives us in his word, because they’re things we can relate to and comprehend.

However, the reality of heaven is much, much greater—as Paul reminds us in that text I read a few moments ago.  

This is why staying close to God through the sacraments—and especially through Confession and the Eucharist—is so important.  There’s an awful lot at stake in this life—so we need to get it right the first time around, because it’s our ONLY time around!

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.  Pray for us today and every day.  Pray that we will follow your example of faithfulness and holiness here on this earth, so that we will someday follow you—body and soul—into the real and eternal kingdom of heaven.  Amen.