Sunday Homilies- Fr. Luke Uebler
“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth… Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.” Words from our Gospel today from the 1st chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
The Assumption has been solemnly defined as a dogma of the Catholic Church, as a teaching of the Church as recent as 1950, but the feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, which we celebrate today, is actually the oldest and most solemn feast of Mary that we have, which has been celebrated for at least sixteen hundred years beginning with the Council of Chalcedon, and the Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate this feast with even greater solemnity than we do.
Because of her role in salvation at the first moment of her life, Mary was preserved free from the corruption of sin by a very special grace of God. We call this the Immaculate Conception. But also, at her last moment, by another very special grace she was preserved free from the corruption of the grave. At the end of her life Mary was assumed into heaven. In the Immaculate Conception the emphasis is on the soul. In the Assumption the emphasis is on the body. Both are important. They were made for each other. At death, there is only a temporary separation but our bodies and souls will be reunited in the Resurrection. The Assumption of Mary shows us that the body which participated in the battle of life will also participate in Christ’s victory over death.
In today’s age, we are very aware of the importance and the vulnerability of the body. We diet and we exercise. We watch the level of cholesterol and our blood pressure. We freak out over world-wide viruses. We realize that the body is the vehicle of life. We know well that the body is the instrument of pleasure, pain and procreation. The body is also the instrument of knowledge. Everything we know comes from one of the five senses, what we see and hear and touch and feel and smell. The body is also how we communicate that knowledge – no one can read our mind. So, we express our thoughts through the body, with language and signs. It has a resident physician and a built-in pharmacy, the immune system. It can heal itself! The body has about 100 trillion cells. Did all of these cells come together by chance to form the cardiovascular, digestive and procreative systems? The great mystery is not so much disease, but health. How all of these glands, cells and organs work together so perfectly without our even thinking about it. What a magnificent creation the human body is made in God’s image and likeness!
Yet by humanity’s participation in sin, we have lost something of our integrity. There is a law in our body warring against the law of our mind. We have so many competing desires and we do not always do what is in our best interest. Rather than living virtuously, we give into vice. Such things are not good for our bodies or for our souls. Discipline is what we need most and want least. After Peter, James and John fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemani, Jesus, our Incarnate Lord, tells them: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” St. Paul also speaks of how he ends up doing what he doesn’t want to do. Quite often today, we have an inordinate, superficial care of the body. We are the cleanest, most hygienic, best groomed, sweetest smelling sinners the world has ever known. “Save the surface and you save all” is a good motto for a paint company but not for a Christian. We need to go deeper.
There are many people who indeed characterize themselves as “spiritual”, but I am often left to wonder what shape their spiritual lives really have when you look at the way they carry themselves in the body here on earth… The fact of the matter is, our spiritual lives interact with our bodies all the time. We form our spirit and our consciences by what we do with our bodies – what we take in and experience, where we go, what we do. We use symbols of candles and crosses and oil and incense and the feel of rosary beads in our fingers to engage our senses. We surround ourselves with holy art and church buildings and special spaces to put ourselves into a posture and spirit of prayer. We are nourished by receiving the Eucharist and we baptize with water. As Jesus took care of other’s physical needs, so we do works of charity and comport ourselves through our bodies in the moral conduct and manner of Christ, both to form our interior for Christian lives and witness to the person of Christ whom we follow. Our body is the temple of the Spirit residing in us, and we need to learn to treat it with respect and dignity it has.
The lesson of the Assumption is that the whole person, body and soul, participates in the battle of life and that the whole person, body and soul, will participate in the victory. Mary said yes to the Lord in her heart and soul, but lived out her discipleship through her body, remaining pure and chaste, traveling to care for others like in the visitation of today’s Gospel, bearing and raising Jesus, and following him throughout his ministry. She showed goodly concern for friends at the wedding feast at Cana when the wine ran dry and even experienced pain on Calvary together with her son. Everything she did reflected and magnified the greatness of the Lord in Body and Soul. So, let us ask Mary, assumed bodily into heaven, to obtain for us the grace to respect and discipline our own bodies, so that one day, we may join her there.