Sunday, August 15, 2010

Eternal Life, Mary's and Ours, in the Fullness of Our Being

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Solemnity of the Assumption

August 15, 2010

Eminence, Excellency, Authorities,
Dear brothers and sisters:

Today the Church celebrates one of the most important feasts devoted to the Most Blessed Mary in the liturgical year: the Assumption. At the end of her earthly life, Mary was carried body and soul to Heaven, that is, to the glory of eternal life, in full and perfect communion with God.

This year will mark the 60th anniversary of when the Venerable Pius XII solemnly defined the dogma of the Assumption on November 1, 1950, and I wish to read -- even if it is a bit complicated -- the form with which it was dogmatized. The Pope wrote:

The revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb, and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages.

Munificentissimus Deus (1950)

This, then, is the nucleus of our faith in the Assumption: we believe that Mary, like Christ her Son, triumphed over death and already triumphs in celestial glory, in the totality of her being, "in body and soul."

St. Paul, in the second Reading today, helps us to throw some light on this mystery, starting from the central fact of human history and of our faith. The fact, namely, of the Resurrection of Christ, who is "the first fruit of those who have died." Immersed in His Paschal Mystery, we have been made participants in His victory over sin and over death. Here is the surprising secret and the key reality of the entire human experience.

St. Paul tells us that we have all been "incorporated" in Adam, the first man, the "old" man - and we all share his human inheritance: suffering, death, sin. But to this reality that we can all see and live every day, a new thing has been added: we are not just heirs of the human race that began with Adam, but we are also "incorporated" in the new man, in the risen Christ, and thus, the life of the Resurrection is already present in us.

Therefore, that first biological "incorporation" was incorporation into death, an incorporation that generates death. The second new one, that is given to us at Baptism, is "incorporation" that gives life.

I will further cite the second Reading today, where St. Paul says: "For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the first fruits; then, at His coming, those who belong to Christ" (1 Cor 15,21-24).

Now, what St. Paul says of all men, the Church, in her infallible magisterium, says of Mary, in a precise manner and sense: the Mother of God was situated in the Mystery of Christ to the extent of taking part in the Resurrection of her Son with her entire being at the end of her earthly life -- she lives that life that which we await at the end of times when the "last enemy" is destroyed, death (cf. 1 Cor 15:26). She already lives that which we proclaim in the Creed: "the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting."

We may then ask: what are the roots of this victory over death that was so miraculously anticipated in Mary?

The roots are in the faith of the Virgin of Nazareth, as testified by the passage of the Gospel that we heard (Lk 1:39-56): a faith that is obedience to the Word of God and total abandon to divine initiative and action as announced to her by the Archangel. Faith, therefore, is Mary's greatness, as Elizabeth joyously proclaimed: Mary is "blessed among women" and "blessed is the fruit of her womb," because she is "the mother of the Lord" -- because she believes and lives the "first" of the beatitudes, the beatitude of faith.

Elizabeth proclaims this in her joy and that of the baby who leaps in her womb: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (v. 45).

Dear friends, let us not limit ourselves to admiring Mary in her glorious destiny, as a person who is very distant from us. No! We are called to look upon what the Lord, in His love, also wished for us, for our final destiny: to live through faith in a perfect communion of love with Him, and thus, to truly live.

In this respect, I wish to dwell a bit on an aspect of the dogmatic proclamation, where it speaks of assumption to celestial glory. We are all aware that today when we say "Heaven" we do not refer to some place in the universe, a star or something similar. No!

We mean something much greater, and something difficult to define with our limited human concepts. With the word "Heaven," we affirm that God, the God who made Himself close to us, will never abandon us, not even in death or beyond it, but has a place for us and grants us eternity. We are saying that in God, there is a place for us.

To understand this reality a little better, let us look at our own life: we all experience that a person, after his death, continues to subsist in some way in the memory and heart of those who knew and loved him. We can say that a part of that person continues to live in them, but like a "shadow," because even this "survival" in the heart of his dear ones is destined to end.

God, however, never passes away, and we all exist by the power of His love. We exist because He loves us, because He has thought us up and called us to life. We exist in the thought and love of God -- where we exist in all of our reality, not just as a "shadow."

Our serenity, our hope, our peace, are based precisely on this: in God, in His thought and in His love, it is not just a "shadow" of us that survives. In Him, in His creative love, we are cared for and introduced with our whole life and our whole being into eternity. It is His love that triumphs over death and that gives us eternity, and it is this love that we call "heaven."

God is so great that He has room for all of us. And the man Jesus, who is God at the same time, is our guarantee that being-man and being-God can exist and live eternally, one within the other.

This means that, for each of us, it is not just a part of us that will continue to exist, a part ripped, so to speak, from the rest of us, while the other parts end up in ruin. It means rather that God knows and loves the whole man, that which we are. And God welcomes to His eternity that which now, in this life made up of suffering and love, of hope, of joy and sadness, grows and "becomes." All of man, all of human life, is taken in by God and, purified in Him, receives eternity.

Dear friends, I think this is a reality that should fill us with profound joy. Christianity does not just announce some generic salvation of the soul in an imprecise afterlife, in which everything that was precious and dear to us in life would be annulled -- but it promises eternal life, "the life of the world to come." Nothing of that which is precious and dear to us will end in ruin but will rather find their fullness in God.

All the hairs on our head are counted, Jesus said once (cf. Mt 10,30). The world to come will be the fulfillment of this earth, as St. Paul affirms: "Creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Rm 8,21).

Thus, one can understand why Christianity gives strong hope in a luminous future and opens the way towards realizing this future. We are called, precisely because we are Christian, to build this new world, to work so that one day it becomes "the world of God," a world that will surpass everything that we ourselves could ever hope to build.

In Mary assumed to heaven, fully participating in the Resurrection of her Son, we contemplate the realization of the human creature according to "God's world." Let us pray to the Lord that He may make us understand how precious our whole life is to His eyes; strengthen our faith in eternal life; make us men of hope, working to build a world that is open to God -- men full of joy who can perceive the beauty of the future world in the midst of the concerns of daily life, and who live, believe and hope in such a certainty. Amen.

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