The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Human history, is a struggle between two loves: love of God to the point of total self-giving, and love of oneself to the point of despising God and hating others. In the book of Revelation these two loves appear in two great figures. The dragon, a vision of power, selfishness, terror and violence and the apparently defenceless woman.

When St John wrote the Book of Revelation, this dragon represented the power of the anti-Christian Roman Emperors. They seemed all powerful and before their military and political might the Church seemed like a defenceless woman with no chance of survival and even less of victory. And yet in the end it was the defenceless woman who won, not power or hatred; the love of God triumphed and the Roman Empire became Christian.

But the word of God is valid for all time. This dragon stands for the anti-Christian regimes of all periods. For those living last century under the Communists or the Nazis, enduring regimes which had so much power over every aspect of their lives it must have seemed impossible that faith could survive. But in the end love was stronger than hate.

Today too, the dragon exists. In some countries it is still dangerous to be a Christian, don’t miss the dragon here in Britain too, attitudes that tell us it is absurd to believe in God or to obey his commandments, that we are the judges of whether life is worth living, that we have a right to do what we want, that shopping, entertainment and sex are the most important things. And once again it seems impossible to oppose this attitude which rules the papers, the television, the cinema, even politics, which dominates everything. Yet as it was true in the Roman empire, as it was true last century, as it has always been true throughout history the Child and the woman are stronger.

The feast of the Assumption directs us to the image of the woman. An image with many aspects. The woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, surrounded by 12 stars. This is Our Lady, clothed with the sun, illuminated and penetrated by God's light. Surrounded by the 12 stars, which are the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles, the People of God; and beneath her feet, is the moon, the ancient Symbol of death and mortality.

Mary has left death behind she is clothed in life, she is taken up body and soul into God's glory and from her place in heaven, she says to us: Take heart, it is love that wins in the end! I am the handmaid of the Lord; my life has been a gift of myself to God and my neighbour. And this life of service is now lived in heaven – in real life. Live like this, for thus we defeat the dragon.

At the same time this woman who had to flee, who gave birth with cries of anguish, is also a symbol of the Church. In all generations the Church must give birth to Christ and bring him into the world with great suffering. Persecuted constantly, both from outside but also by the sins of her own members, it is almost as if, pursued by the dragon, the Church must, in this world, always live in the wilderness.

And yet the Church does not starve. As Mary says in the Gospel 'he fills the hungry with good things'. Fed indeed with the Bread of the Holy Eucharist, the bread of the one who suffered death and rose to eternal life. Whatever She faces in the world the Church wins through suffering. Because suffering with Christ leads to life. Indeed in the midst of suffering and in the presence of all hatred and selfishness the Church is the guarantee of God's love.

The Feast of the Assumption is an invitation to trust in God and also to imitate Mary saying with her ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord’; I put myself at the Lord's disposal. This is the lesson: give life, don’t take it, take the way of love which is the giving, the loss of self, but which in Christ is the way to find both self and life. Look to Mary, taken up into Heaven. God wins. Faith, which seems weak, is the true force of the world. Divine Love is stronger than death.

And let us say with Elizabeth: Blessed are you among women. Let us pray to you with all the Church: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

(taken from an Assumption Sermon by Pope Benedict XIV)


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