Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Preached August 15, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into heaven is the reality believed by the Church since the beginning, Indeed for one who knows the sacred Scriptures, for one who knows God, for one who knows Jesus Christ, it is unthinkable that God would have abandoned to destruction the living ark of the covenant who bore within herself for nine months the very Son of God.

The reality of the Assumption has been believed since the beginning, but it was only solemnly and infallibly proclaimed as a dogma by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950. Working through that dogmatic proclamation of Pope Pius XII it is clear that God, in our own times, wanted in a special way to set this reality before the eyes of our faith; the reality of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has a special importance for our own times.

Indeed, in our own age it seems that the events portrayed in today’s 1st reading from the book of Revelation are being played out before our eyes. The dogma of the Assumption sets before our eyes the Virgin Mary, clothed with the glory of God, as the ‘great sign’ given by God and that sign is indeed violently opposed by the diabolic fury of the dragon, who sweeps a third of the stars from the sky. Indeed, we see those stars falling before our eyes in the horrific scandal of corruption among the clergy, bishops and priests.

Now if we want to understand the vital importance of this dogma it might be good to go back in our minds for a moment to 1950 an consider how history was written back then – it is written differently now.

Back in 1950 history was presented as the story of the deeds of the great men who built up or destroyed, empires, nations, and kingdoms. The great political leaders and thinkers, explorers and inventors, soldiers and writers who filled this story were predominantly men. For that reason people now cry out: “Unfair!” So now history must be written differently.

It is the same thing with the Bible. It appears to be the story of the patriarchs and kings, the prophets and apostles, all predominantly men. So once again the cry goes up, “Unfair!”

“Unfair!” After all women must be equal to men, so the story goes.

Nevertheless, all of this misses the very simple reality that is set before our eyes in today’s Gospel.

On the human level we have the most ordinary of scenes, the meeting of two pregnant women. The only men present are the two babies being carried in the wombs of their mothers.

On the human level the simple reality of the transmission of human life, the simple reality of motherhood – yes, the father is necessarily involved, but he remains in the background – lies at the heart of it all. Since human life is more than just bringing more bodies into the world, but involves also the reality of ‘culture’, the passing on of a way of life from one generation to the next, women are also in a unique way the guardians and bearers of culture.

If there is anything good and noble to be found in the deeds of men recorded in history, and there is, that is because it served the reality of the transmission of human life. If there is anything wicked and criminal to be found in the deeds of men recorded in history, and there is, that is because it has wreaked havoc and destruction upon the transmission of human life.

That is the simple human level, but today’s Gospel sets before our eyes two special women, the mother of the forerunner and herald, St. John the Baptist, and the mother of the very Son of God, Jesus Christ. Just as motherhood lies at the center of human life, so it also lies at the center of God’s plan of salvation. In a way we can say it is all about Mary giving birth to Jesus, whether giving birth to the head, Jesus Christ himself, in the joy of Christmas, or giving birth to the members of the body, those who believe in Christ, in the labor pains she experienced as she stood at the foot of the Cross.

So while the men wage their wars and make their discoveries, the diabolic dragon marshals his force to attack the heart of human life: motherhood. That means debasing and degrading the ideal of womanhood.

You see women are powerful. They have always been exceedingly powerful. It is just a different sort of power. They have the power to inspire and elevate; or the power to drag down and corrupt.

For that reason the quality of a culture can be judged by its ideal of womanhood: everything seems to hinge on how women view themselves and how men view women.

Now we come to the significance of the timing of the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption: 1950.

In 1948 the first part of the Kinsey report on the sexuality of the human male was published; the second part on female sexuality was published in 1953. The pseudo-science of the Kinsey report was highly influential in changing the way people thought about sex. Its basic message was: “Relax; stop feeling guilty; everyone does it.”  Also the first issue of Playboy came out in December 1953; this brought pornography into the mainstream, into the family living room.

As an aside, notice that Playboy, for men, carries a picture of a scantily clad woman on the cover, but Cosmopolitan, for women, also carries a picture of a scantily clad woman on the cover. It is all about how women view themselves and men view women.

Women’s fashions enter very much into the picture here. By the way they dress women reveal either how they want to see themselves or how they want men to see them.

In any case, the Kinsey Report and Playboy Magazine marked the beginning of the most devastating and destructive revolution the world has ever known: the sexual revolution. We are living with its ugly consequences both in the #metoo movement and phase II of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. We are also dealing with its consequence in the sewage of pornography in which we swim daily since in its milder forms it stares us in the face in the check out line at the supermarket.  We are drowning in the devastation and confusion wrought by disordered sexual desire of every kind.

Now each one of us is born into this world as male or female and we come to know and relate to everyone else through our bodies, male or female. Immediately every single relationship can be characterized as same-sex or opposite-sex. Each type of relationship has a different dynamic, but very few of those relationships involve or should involve sexual activity.

In opposition to this rising tide of sewage God gave us the dogma of the Assumption. Here we contemplate a woman’s body, a virgin’s body, a mother’s body taken up into the glory of heaven.

Here we do not see the absence of sexuality but perfectly ordered sexuality – something beyond our own experience.

We learn here that in heaven there is still male and female, even though there is no marriage, no sexual union, and no begetting of children. This tells us that being a man or woman is rather something more than simply having sex, but that sexual desire is ordered to the service of a higher reality, from which it takes its meaning and purpose.

Right now, I have in front of me picture of a photo taken by a Mexican photographer, Jose Luis Neyra. It shows an advertisement board. On the left side of the board are overlapping covers of women’s magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, both of which are part of the Hearst publishing empire. In the upper right is a poster of Wonder Woman (the Lynda Carter version). In the lower left, because this is in Mexico and they are better off than we are, is a poster of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The juxtaposition of the images is rather jarring to say the least, but it reveals the reality of where we are. Wonder Woman is on the top, the ideal of the modern, liberated independent woman. She is strong. She is aggressive. She doesn’t need anyone. She stands there displaying her female parts in such a fashion as to provoke male desire, but her pose says, “You can’t have me. If you try, I will beat you up.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is quite the opposite. In her there is nothing hard, nothing aggressive, nothing bitter, and surely nothing immodest. There is also true beauty, tenderness and gentleness. She is one to inspire a love for everything noble and true. At the same time there is no timidity in her. She is by no means beaten down or subdued. She possesses great strength, the strength and power of the radiant beauty of her holiness. No evil can touch her. She is protected by God. She is not even debased by the poor images surrounding her, rather – if possible – she imparts some of her dignity to them.

Now maybe we can understand the help and hope that is given to us in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We must, in the first place, get her onto the board, then we must move her to the top, then we must allow her to clean out all the unworthy and debased images of womanhood in our imaginations and in our culture.

Mary Assumed into heaven has the power to heal our hearts; she has the power to heal all the hearts that have been wounded by the sexual revolution. The devil has injected poison into our veins by way of the corrupt culture in which we live; the Virgin Mary has the antidote.

 

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.