Vigil, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Re-opening of Cathedral, August 14, 2010, Cheyenne
Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne
August 15 in Indiana is not only a feast day, but it also marks the beginning of squirrel season. I mention this only so that you know that I am still firmly rooted in my own humanity. A feast like today reminds us not only of our humanity, a humanity we share with the Blessed Mother, and a humanity our LORD shared with us. Both of these realities give rise to the beauty of our human condition as well as the difficulty of its frailty.
We do not leave our human nature behind. Mary was blessed by God from the moment of her conception with a unique participation in the grace won by her Son’s passion, death and resurrection. It was this unique participation in the grace of Christ that allowed her to live a human life free from sin and thus to be the worthy Mother of God. It is this same grace of Christ that calls us and enables us to enter into the mystery of God and a deep relationship with Christ. This is what we refer to as a life of holiness.
The Blessed Mother’s life and faith in God is perhaps the best teaching available to demonstrate how each human life is to move through its humanity to a participation in the divine life and love. If this were not affirmation enough of the beauty of the human person, we have the final and greatest evidence of the Son of God who humbled Himself to take on our human condition through Mary in the Incarnation. Thus we see the marvelous interchange of the human condition (Mary) willing and able to receive the Divine, and the Divine (Jesus Christ) lovingly desiring to enter into the fullness of the human condition in all things but sin, in order to free us from this very frailty.
It is as if the woman in the Gospel, today, recognized the beauty of this exchange in her words to Jesus: Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” Even this reference to the relationship of Mary and her son is a beautiful image of the intimate relationship Christ has entered into with all humanity, through Mary. There are few if any images that speak to the dependence of one life upon another, that speak to the dependence of human life upon the divine, as the image of a child in the womb, or a child at the breast, let alone that that womb is of Mary, the mother of our rebirth, and the child is that of Christ, the source of our redemption.
Even the image of Christ at the breast of Mary, speaks to the humility of God who created all things, yet puts his own sustenance and dependence for life in the hands of a young woman. This intermingling of human and divine continues throughout the life of the church as Christ still shares Himself with us through Word and Sacrament. As He was nourished by His mother, Mary, so we are nourished now through His open side in the waters of Baptism and by his very flesh in Eucharist.
Christ’s response to the woman in the Gospel today is interesting. It is as if he knew the rest of humanity would somehow or another feel inferior to his mother, would somehow feel inadequate to live up to the unique standard created in her. And with no disrespect to her, in fact with all respect to her humility, he gives us great confidence and hope with his words: Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it. For surely this is a teaching we are all capable of keeping.
Indeed, this great new covenant of the intimate union of the human and divine continues, and is possible for all who hear the Word of God and keep it. This is the great instruction given by St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians: Receive the word of God, not as the word of men, but, as it truly is, the word of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
This is in fact what Mary did in receiving the WORD of God: The WORD became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
This is our hope as Christians, that we are called to a unique and intimate relationship of love with the God of all creation, with the Christ who is our Savior. Mary shows us the way to receive God’s word, and to give birth to Christ. This is in short the roadmap for every Christian, to receive God’s word, and to give birth to Christ.
And because Christ took our humanity to himself and swallowed up the power of sin and death on the cross we have the confidence and hope that we who believe in him will share in this resurrection. In reality, this is what we celebrate today in the Assumption of the Blessed Mother. Listen to the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians: “In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.” (CCC 966)
Today, we celebrate with joy the life and Assumption of our Blessed Mother. We celebrate with hope and faith what her life and her continued maternal care and intercession afford us, life with her Son, Jesus Christ; here and now through our love and His WORD and sacrament; and in the Kingdom of Heaven for all eternity.
Mary, Queen of Peace, Pray for us!2