Monday, August 15, 2016

The Assumption of Our Lady 2016: Celebrating our Destiny

What we celebrate today is our destiny and we celebrate it through the one human being who had the most unique relationship with God.

The Assumption of Our Lady causes our Protestant brethren some difficulty again along the lines of idolatry. We must always listen charitably to their objections because they are valuable, allow us to check our thinking, and seek to find more common ground together in our Christian witness to the world.

What is it that they object to? The object to what they perceive to be our worship of the Blessed Virgin. They perceive that we worship her in the same way that we worship her Son. If that is true, then we are idolaters indeed. We know for a fact that Mary is not God: she is the Mother of God, because she is the mother of Jesus, and Christians believe that Jesus is God. The logic is inescapable and the Third Oecumenical Council of Ephesus ensured that this was the correct doctrine for us to follow lest we fall into Nestorianism. The Mother of God has only one nature, and that is human. She is like us and not like her Son. She is therefore not worthy of the worship that is due solely to God.

Nor can she bear the title of co-redemptrix, putting her involvement in the redemption of mankind on the same level as Our Lord. She recognises herself to be only an instrument of the will of the Lord when she says, “be it unto me according to thy word.” She is not an agent of redemption – only Our Lord is – but she is a recipient of it because of her unique involvement in that redemption.

You see, what we see in Mary we see as potentially true for ourselves. When we look at Mary, what we see is how we can be involved with God as willing instruments of His Will, yet possessing a deep relationship with Him that lifts us up from just being simple tools which can be picked up and put down without further regard. We see in Mary an alignment of the human will with the Divine surpassed only by Our Lord’s alignment of His Human Will with His Divine Will. We too can spend our lives trying to align our wills with God. The fact of our sin and failure does not inhibit this process as long as we repent and continue to repent.

Our Lady always seeks out her son. Some folk seem to think that Jesus is a naughty boy for getting lost and subsequently being found in the temple. Yet, this was not sin because first, Mary did know that her son was the Son of God and second, the Law states to love God before all else. It is because Our Lord loves His Father that He loves His mother too. Yet, the heart of a loving mother is filled with worry for her children. Our Lord did not cause the worry, it is part of Mary’s loving nature and over-riding concern for her boy that caused the worry. God has it all in hand, and Mary needs to grow in faith. The result of such devotion is that, while she spends her life seeking her son, she ends her life being sought out by her son for a particular honour open to very few human beings.

There are no bodily relics of Mary. This is highly unusual, and lends good weight to the Assumption. The Law says “Honour thy father and thy mother.” Even now Our Lord does both. In assuming his position as king of heaven, He uses that commandment to admit Our Lady as Queen of Heaven, as Queen Mother, a unique position that can only be held by one person.

Apotheosis becomes theosis. Our Lady is assumed into the Divine nature of her son. This is why her prayers are so powerful and sweet. Of course, Our Lord hears our prayer with infinite love and tenderness. Yet, in asking for Our Lady’s prayers, we come to Our Lord through her in her unique relationship. As she stands beside us praying with us, we are as close as we can be to Him because she is always standing with Him. She stands in solidarity with us, and we find Christ too in that solidarity.

What of Our Lady’s sinlessness or otherwise? The Church Fathers attest to her sinlessness but the question of her immaculate conception has been raised to the level of dogma by the Roman Church. It is a good pious opinion which makes sense and is alluded to by St Athanasius as reported by St Cyril of Alexandria when he says: “There have been many holy people, free from all sin. Jeremiah was sanctified in his mother’s womb, and John while still in the womb leaped for joy at the voice of Mary, the Mother of God.” While he may just be referring to Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Our Lord, the inclusion of Our Lady specifically by name rather than mentioning her son, does give the impression that he believed her to be holy and sinless.

We know also that she is full of grace because the Lord is with her. Does that mean that she was immaculately conceived? The question is largely irrelevant as we should not be scrutinising other people for sin but constantly working to root out sin from our lives. As far as we are concerned, unless given clear indication otherwise, we cannot rightly call anyone we meet a sinner. We might as well treat them as sinless until we have evidence of sin. But then, as they confess and repent, they return to that state of grace. Our Lady’s immaculate conception or otherwise doesn’t add anything to the faith itself: if she isn’t immaculately conceived, then her apotheosis shows that a sinner can be assumed into Heaven and continue her relationship with her son; if she is immaculately conceived, then we see the power of God’s grace over sin and His Divine foreknowledge at work. As far as we are concerned, in her Assumption, Our Lady exemplifies the purity and perfection of the human condition that is open to every human being who becomes part of the Church.

In loving Our Lady, we find ourselves better able to show the same loving tenderness to all God’s children by creation. In loving her, we love what she stands for and for whom she prays. In loving her we begin to love better the Son she bore and who redeemed us by His blood. We are helped by her prayers and, if we allow her, she can take us by the arm and present us to her Son, especially in those times we feel we cannot approach Him.

Let us pray our Hail Mary together and, in so doing, worship the Son she bore.

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