Sunday, August 15, 2021

Mary's Continuous 'Yes' to God: What it Meant for her, and What it Means for us

St. Peter at the Pearly Gates


(Solemnity of the Assumption: This homily was given on August 15, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-10; Psalm 45:10-16; 1 Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1: 39-56.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Assumption 2021]

One day a priest died, and he found himself standing in line at the pearly gates of Heaven.  Ahead of him was a man dressed in sunglasses, a leather jacket and worn-out jeans.  St. Peter, who was sitting at his check-in desk, said to the man, "Sir, please tell me your name.  If it's on my list, then I can let you into the Kingdom of Heaven."  The man replied, "I'm Joe Cohen, a taxi driver from New York City."  St. Peter looked at his list, and he smiled.  He said, "Congratulations, Joe.  You made it.  Now take this silken robe and golden staff and enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

Next in line was the priest.  Without even being asked, he said, "I'm Fr. Joseph Snow, and I was pastor of St. Mary's Church for the last forty-three years."  St. Peter once again looked over his list, and once again he smiled.  He said, "Congratulations, Father.  You also have made it.  Now take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

The priest said, "Hold on, St. Peter.  Wait just a minute.  That odd-looking man was a taxi driver, and he got a silken robe and a golden staff.  I was the pastor of one of the biggest parishes of the diocese—for 43 years! —and all you're giving me is a cotton robe and wooden staff.  How can that be?"

St. Peter responded, "Father, up here we judge people by results.  When you preached, people slept; but when that guy drove, people prayed!"

I tell that story this morning because today the Church focuses our attention on the "result" of the Blessed Mother's Yes to God, and on the ultimate fruit of that result.  Recall that when the Lord asked Mary at the Annunciation to be the mother of his Son, she responded, "Be it done unto me according to your Word."  The result of that Yes was ultimately the world's salvation: the offer of salvation to every human person, and the salvation of Mary herself.  Contrary to what some non-Catholics think we believe, the Blessed Mother did not save herself.  The Catholic Church has never taught that!  Mary was saved by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of her divine Son by being preserved from Original Sin from the first moment of her conception.  But without her Yes, the Savior would never have been born into the world to suffer, die and rise for her and for all of us.   

And because Mary's Yes to God was continuous throughout her life—such that she never committed a single sin—she's been given much more than a silken robe and a golden staff.  As we were told in today's first reading from Revelation 12, she's received a crown of twelve stars and been made the Queen of Heaven and earth!  That means she's already been given a full participation in the resurrected life of her Son.  And this is precisely what the Assumption of our Lady is all about. 

The Church teaches that when we die, our souls are separated from our bodies, and our souls go either to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.  Only at the Final Judgment will our bodies be resurrected and reunited with our souls.  But for the Blessed Mother, the separation never occurred.  At the end of her earthly life, she was taken—soul and body—into the Lord's eternal Kingdom.  And so, her Assumption is, as the Catechism tells us, "a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection, and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians." (CCC, 966) That means, quite simply, that what's already happened to Mary will someday happen to us, if we are in the state of grace when we die.

That, of course, is a big and crucial "if."  Like Joe the wild taxi driver and Fr. Joe the boring priest, we will all face God's judgment at the end of our lives.  Consequently, to be ready for that event, we need to examine our consciences every day—not just once a year during the Easter season—and go to Confession as often as necessary.  In that way we will have a moral certainty that we are in the state of grace.  Because, even though we will never be as holy as Mary was, God still has much more for each of us than a silken robe and a golden staff.  He has a Kingdom: a glorious Kingdom, an eternal Kingdom, a Kingdom that his only begotten Son died to give us.  And so today, on this Solemnity of the Assumption, we should say, "Thank you, Mary, for saying Yes!'"