Assumption of Our Lady
The heart of every true Catholic rejoices on this day, for on it we contemplate the glorification of our Mother, Mary Immaculate. We congratulate her on her definitive and everlasting victory over death. We supplicate her to intercede for us and to lead us to her Son.
This dogma of our faith teaches that Mary, at the end of her earthly existence, was taken up into heavenly glory body and soul. Whereas the souls of the other saints are glorified after death, while the glorification of their bodies must await the final resurrection, Our Lady’s body never knew the corruption of the grave, but was glorified by God as having been the temple of His glory, the throne of His Majesty on earth, the most pure ark of the new and eternal Covenant.
The dogma is a consoling one, for as the oration of today’s Mass invites us to do, it draws our eyes heavenward, ad superna semper intenti, it pulls us away from the earthly distractions that surround us in such a way as to make us ever intent on heavenly realities.
It is also by a secret design of divine providence that the definition of the dogma, even though it had always been held in the Church, was not defined officially until the middle of the last century. God knew that in our age such a consoling truth would be more important than ever. It is her flesh and bones with all its female characteristics that is honoured today and that the Church presents as an article of divinely revealed faith.
In an age of bogus scientism that would have us think that the human body is the product of blind evolution, the dogma teaches us, on the contrary, that it comes straight from the hands of God. As such it is beautiful and honourable. In an age of libertarian use and abuse of the body, especially the female body, the dogma reminds of the eminent dignity of every human body. As the world makes sport of feminine features and uses them for a filthy profit, the Church puts before our eyes a female body, most perfect in its proportions, ravishingly beautiful beyond all others, shining with the glory of God, replete with His grace, full of purity and holiness, inspiring reverence and honour. In an age that has somehow convinced itself that sex is something you choose and that you can change at will, the Assumption reminds us that sexuality is distinctly willed by God as a gift and it is constitutive of the person. Mary is a female person. She is a woman. She is mother.
For us men, the contemplation of the Assumption should inspire us with profound reverence and awe for the mystery of every woman, whoever she may be, in such a way that we only approach that mystery with the trepidation of profaning what God has made to be so beautifully sacred.
For you women, the mystery of the Assumption gives you immense hope and encouragement as you bear the burdens of this corruptible life with its responsibilities of being a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother. It should give you renewed respect for yourself and your dignity. It should inspire you with the desire to enhance in a chaste way the temple of the Holy Spirit which is your body, and to help men to see in you one whose very attire and demeanour reflect and radiate purity and strength. For femininity does not mean weakness. Our Lady was the type of the mulier fortis, the strong woman of which the last chapter of the book of Proverbs speaks so eloquently.
Today’s liturgy also puts before our eyes another strong woman for our contemplation. Over the last two weeks we reflected upon Abigail, wife of David, and Queen Esther. Today, we turn to Judith. As in the case of Esther, it was the entire Jewish nation that was in danger of extermination. Nabuchonosor, King of Assyria, exalts himself to the point of not only commanding that all the lands submit to his rule, but also that they renounce their gods and give to him alone the divine honours. He sends out his general Holofernes to bring into subjection all the neighbouring peoples. One after the other they fall into his hands, and the Jews remain alone refusing to submit. Holofernes lays siege to the town of Bethulia, which is the gateway to Jerusalem. If it falls, Jerusalem will be in his hands. The people resist, but with the protraction of the siege they are tormented by hunger and thirst. In their anguish, under the guidance of the high priest Ozias they make what they think is a good deal with God: come to our aid within five days, or else we will surrender to the enemy. It was essentially to put God to the test.
When Judith hears of this, she summons the ancients of the town. Having admonished them for their foolishness, she humbles herself in sackcloth and ashes and prays at length before the Lord. It is in prayer that she receives the inspiration to go to Holofernes. Impure man that he is, her beauty strikes him down, and leads him to foolishly expose himself to her power. Judith beheads him in his drunken sleep and the Jews win the victory over the bewildered and headless armies of their enemies.
Judith’s great virtues are purity and fortitude. The sacred text takes care to inform us that after the death of her husband, she did not remarry and that she spent her days in prayer and fasting. When she goes to Holofernes, she knows very well that she is exposing her life. But that does not deter her. Chastity has made her strong, and God acts through her. But the story also contains a very important lesson in patience endurance. Listen to how she admonishes the elders who had decided to give up if God did not come to their aid before a certain day:
What is this word, by which Ozias hath consented to give up the city to the Assyrians, if within five days there come no aid to us? And who are you that tempt the Lord? This is not a word that may draw down mercy, but rather that may stir up wrath, and enkindle indignation. You have set a time for the mercy of the Lord, and you have appointed him a day, according to your pleasure. But forasmuch as the Lord is patient, let us be penitent … and with many tears let us beg his pardon…let us humble our souls before him, and continuing in an humble spirit, in his service: Let us ask the Lord with tears, that according to his will so he would shew his mercy to us: that as our heart is troubled by their pride, so also we may glorify in our humility… Let us humbly wait for his consolation. … Remember how our fathers and all that have pleased God, passed through many tribulations, remaining faithful… therefore let us not revenge ourselves .. but esteeming these very punishments to be less than our sins deserve, let us believe that these scourges of the Lord, with which like servants we are chastised, have happened for our amendment, and not for our destruction. (Judith 8)
In this, Judith is a model for all those who find themselves in desperate situations for which there seems to be no way out. When all seems lost, we must never give up. If Judith admonishes the elders for taking action without God, she does not however remain inactive herself. Like Esther, she prays and fasts, but then she acts. The lesson here is that it is only in prayer and penance that the real solution to our problems will be found. No amount of human effort on its own can provide true and lasting answers. God is at work in history, but in order to unleash His power, He seeks souls that let Him act through them. And that is precisely why, in this modern era, He has sent Mary, again and again, to warn us of impending disaster, to call us back to repentance, and put our trust in the Lord.
I need not remind you, my dear Friends, of all the evils that surround us, of the dire dangers that threaten to immerse our world, and more seriously of the real threat of eternal damnation for those who do not seek God. Nor do I need to recall that, like the Jews in Judith’s day, we deserve all that we are getting. Rather, we are not getting anything near what we really deserve. The mercy of God is at work in the midst of these trials, and it wants to win a resounding victory through a woman, one who is both chaste and strong.
It is to that woman, to Mary Immaculate that we turn on this day. Human resources are of no avail. Divine grace alone can save us, and it is through Mary that we will obtain it. And that is why, at the end of Mass today we shall chant her Litany and consecrate ourselves to her. At Fatima, she assured us that Her Immaculate Heart would triumph. Let us not grow impatient; let us not put God to the test; let us humble ourselves. You men, know that the victory will come through a woman. You women, strive to be as Mary-like as you can. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30). And let us all look forward to that happy day when, after the battle, we will sing the praise of Mary Immaculate:
The Lord hath blessed thee by his power, because by thee he hath brought our enemies to nought. Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth. Blessed be the Lord who made heaven and earth, because he hath so magnified thy name this day, that thy praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord for ever, for that thou hast not spared thy life, by reason of the distress and tribulation of thy people, but hast prevented our ruin in the presence of our God. (Judith 13)