Monday, August 9, 2010

God's Fullness and Mary's Nothingness

Homily on the Solemnity of the Assumption of BVM
(Luke 1:39-56)
August 15, 2010

When one loves a woman, there is always implied, if that love is real indeed, a wish that she would live forever. But whenever one despises the opposite sex, there is sometimes a wish that she be dead! When a detested person dies, some of us may even think that he should have died long ago. It is entirely different, however, when it comes to the woman we love. How often we wish she would be with us at all times and seasons. When her heart stops beating, we make every effort to revive her, and when we cannot, we mourn for her. We treasure her memories. We preserve the things she left to remind us of her so that in remembrance we feel as if she were with us, very much alive. This partly explains why we love to erect monuments in honor of those we love. Since we do not have control over her life—only God has—we seek other means to prolong it. And monuments do that function. Such is the Taj Mahal. It is in the nature of love to last forever.

That the Blessed Virgin assumed into heaven—this is a sign of God’s love for her. Since God could not allow her to die, she was taken up body and soul. It is along this gamut of thought that we should understand the Second Reading (1 Cor 15:20-27). God loves his only Son, Jesus, and so he could not allow him to suffer dissolution. For this reason, he rose from the dead. He is the first fruit of the resurrection; but others who have followed him will share in the resurrection life. If Mary assumed into heaven, it was because, having been loved by God, she shared in Christ’s definitive victory over “every sovereignty, authority and power”, over all forces of evil. Death could not hold her. John puts it differently: “whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life, and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26).

Why did she so share in God’s victory that she assumed into heaven? Theologically, of course, Mary did not merit it, but in Luke’s theological understanding, Mary is an exemplar of God’s love for the poor, for the anawim, who have nothing to boast before the world, but who positively responded to his offer of love and his definitive will to save. As the Gospel puts it, for God “has looked upon his servant in her lowliness” (Luke 1:48c). That is to say, God loved her in her lowliness, or to put it literally, in the humiliation or humble estate of his servant. In the eyes of the world, Mary was nothing. In answer to God’s love, all she acknowledged before him was her nothingness, her poverty. Because of her nothingness, God brought about salvation for the world. That is why the First Reading speaks of a woman—clothed with the sun with a crown of 12 starts—who symbolizes the new community of the saved. Mary is the symbol of the Church, the mother of those who are saved in Jesus. Because of her nothingness, her poverty, God who loved her so much, made her rich by making her the dwelling place of Jesus. Thus Luke: “He has deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised up the lowly to high places” (Luke 1:31).

What is the meaning of all this for us? It means that if in response to God’s offer of love and his plan of salvation, we live a life of humiliation before God and men, we shall share Mary’s destiny. God will not permit that we will die. On the contrary, we will be saved from the forces of evil and death. But that humble estate necessarily implies that like Mary we become the dwelling place of Christ himself. We deny ourselves. We say “no” to our own will, so that Christ himself becomes the principle of our lives. As Paul expresses it, “Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). In other words, as in Mary who said “yes” to his love, God takes possession of us so that we are a new creation, our body is humiliated, crucified in its sinfulness. And as we are united with him in life and in death, we will rise up to heaven: “If we have been united with him through the likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection” (Rom 6:5).

Mary’s humiliation is thus a pattern for our life. And because she assumed into heaven, what happened to her life in the end constitutes a hope for us to endeavor to respond to God’s love by being united with Christ in discipleship. In the words of the Preface of the Assumption, she is “the beginning and the pattern of the Church in her perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people in their pilgrim way.”

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