Monday, August 15, 2011

Living Ark of the Covenant

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Solemnity of the Assumption

San Tomasso de Villanova, Castel Gandolfo
August 15, 2011
Dear brothers and sisters,

We are gathered together once again to celebrate one of the most ancient and beloved feasts dedicated to the Most Blessed Mary, the feast of her assumption to the glory of heaven in body and soul - that is, in her whole being as a human, in the full integrity of her person.

So we are given the grace of renewing our love for Mary, to admire her and to praise her for the 'great things' that the Almighty did for her and had worked in her.

In contemplating the Virgin Mary, we are given yet another grace: that of being able to see in depth even our own life. Yes, because even our daily existence, with its problems and hopes, receives light from the Mother of God, from her spiritual path, from her destiny of glory -- a journey and a destination that can be and should become, in some way, our own journey and our own destination.

We can let ourselves be guided by the passages from Sacred Scriptures that the liturgy offers us today. I wish to dwell especially on an image which we find in the first reading, taken from the Apocalypse, and which is echoed in the Gospel of Luke, namely, that of the Ark.

In the first reading, we heard: "Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of His covenant could be seen in the temple" (Ap 11,19).

What is the significance of the Ark? What is it that appeared? In the Old Testament, the ark is the symbol of the presence of God among His people. But the symbol has given way to reality.

The Ark of the Covenant is a living concrete person: the Virgin Mary. God does not live in a building, God lives in a person, in a heart: Mary who carried in her womb the eternal Son of God-made-flesh - Jesus our Lord and Redeemer.

In the Ark [of the Old Testament], as we know, were kept the two tables of the law handed down to Moses, which manifested the will of God to keep His covenant with His people, indicating the conditions for them to be faithful to their pact with God, in order to conform themselves to the will of God and therefore to the profound truth about ourselves.

Mary is the Ark of the Covenant, because she harbored Jesus in herself - she received into herself the living Word, everything that is contained in the will of God. She received into herself Him who is the new and eternal covenant, which culminated in the offering of His own flesh and blood - flesh and blood that He received from Mary.

Rightly, therefore, Christian piety, in the litanies that honor the Madonna, address and invoke her as Foederis Arca - Ark of the Covenant, ark of the presence of God, ark of the alliance of love that God wished to establish definitively with all mankind in Christ.

The passage from the Apocalypse also indicates another important aspect of Mary's reality. She, the living ark of the covenant, has an extraordinary destiny of glory because she is so united to the Son whom she had received in faith and generated in the flesh, that she would fully share with Him the glory of heaven.

It is suggested to us by the words we heard: "A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child... (and) she gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations..." (12,1-2; 5).

The greatness of Mary, Mother of God, full of grace, fully obedient to the action of the Holy Spirit, now lives in God's heaven, her entire self, body and soul.

St. John Damascene referred to this mystery in a famous homily, saying: "Today the holy and unique virgin was led to the celestial temple... Today, the sacred ark is animated by the living God, the Ark which carried in her womb the Creator Himself, now rests in the temple of the Lord, that which is not constructed by the hand of man" (Homily II on the Dormition of Mary, 2, PG 96, 723).

He went on: "It was necesary that she who had hosted in her womb the divine Logos now trasnfers to the tabernacles of her Son... It as necessary that the Spouse chosen by the Father should inhabit the nuptial chamber of Heaven" (ibid., 14, PG 96, 742).

Today, the Church sings of God's immense love for this creature: He had chosen her as the true Ark of the Covenant who would continue to generate and give Christ the Savior to mankind - she who in heaven shares the fullness of glory and rejoices in God's own happiness, while at the same time, she invites us to become, in our modest way, an 'ark' in which the Word of God is present, which is transformed and revitalized by His presence, a place of God's presence such that man can find in other men the nearness of God, and thus live in communion with God and get to know the reality of heaven.

The Gospel of Luke that we heard (cfr Lk 1,39-56) shows us this living ark, who is Mary, on the move: Leaving her house in Nazareth, she travels in haste to the hill country to get to the home of Elizabeth and Zachariah in a city in Judea.

I think it is important to underscore the expression 'in haste': The things of God require haste - indeed, the only things in the world that merit haste are those of God, which have true urgency for our life.

So Mary enters the house of Zachariah and Elizabeth, but she does not enter by herself. She is carrying her son in her womb, who is God Himself become flesh.

Of course, they were expecting her and her assistance in that house, but the evangelist leads us to understand that this expectation points to another, more profound one.

Zachariah, Elizabeth and the baby she bore, who would be John the Baptist, are in fact the symbol of all the just people of Israel, whose hearts, rich with hope, have been awaiting the arrival of the Savior Messiah.

And it is the Holy Spirit who opens the eyes of Elizabeth and makes her recognize in Mary the true Ark of the Covenant, the Mother of God, who had come to visit her.

That is why her elderly relative welcomes her, crying out 'in a loud voice': “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1,42-43).

It is the same Holy Spirit who, in the presence of she who is carrying God-made-man, opens the heart of John in the womb of Elizabeth, who exclaims: "At the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy" (v. 44).

Here, the evangelist Luke uses the term skirtan, which means 'to skip' or 'to hop' [even more graphically, 'to dance a jig'], the same term that we find in one of the ancient Greek translations of the Old Testament to describe the dance of King David before the holy Ark when it finally returned home (2Sam 6,16).

John the Baptist, in his mother's womb, dances in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant like David, thus recognizing that Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, before whom the heart exults with joy - she is the Mother of God who is present in the world, who does not keep the divine presence to herself but offers Him to all so that everyone may share in God's grace.

Thus, as the prayer says, Mary is truly the 'causa nostrae laetitiae' (the reason for our joy, the 'Ark' in which the Savior is truly present among us.

Dear friends, we are speaking of Mary, but in a way, we are also speaking of ourselves, of each of us: We too are destined to receive that immense love that God reserved for Mary - though, of course, in an absolutely unique and unrepeatable way for her.

On this Solemnity of the Assumption, let us look to Mary: She opens us to hope, to a future full of joy, and she shows us the way to reach it: to welcome her Son in faith, never to lose friendship with Him, but to allow ourselves to be enlightened and guided by His Word; to follow Him every day, even during the times we feel that our crosses have become too heavy.

Mary, the Ark of the Covenant who is enshrined in Heaven, shows us with luminous clarity that we are on a journey towards our true home - the communion of joy and peace with God. Amen!

Reflection of Pope Benedict
Angelus, Solemnity of the Assumption

August 15, 2011
Dear brothers and sisters,

In the heart of the month of August, Christians of the East and the West celebrate together the Feast of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Mary to heaven.

In the Catholic Church, the dogma of the Assumption, as we know, was proclaimed in the Holy Year of 1950 by my venerated predecessor, the Servant of God Pope Pius XII. But this commemoration has its roots deep in the faith of the first centuries of the Church.

In the Christian Orient, it is still called the Dormition of Mary. An ancient mosaic in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore here in Rome, which was inspired precisely by the Oriental icon of the 'Dormitio', depicts the Apostles, who, having been informed by the angels about the end of the earthly life of the Mother of Jesus, are gathered around the Virgin's bed. In the center is Jesus who holds a girl in His arms - it is Mary who has become a child again for the Kingdom, and is led by the Lord to heaven.

In the pages of the Gospel of St. Luke in today's liturgy, we read that "During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah" (Lk 1,39). In those days, Mary left Galilee in haste to visit her relative Elizabeth.

Today, we contemplate her ascending the mountain of God to enter the celestial Jerusalem, "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Ap 12,1).

The Biblical page of the Apocalypse that we read in the liturgy of today's Solemnity speaks of a battle between the woman and the dragon, between good and evil. St. John seems to be reminding us of the very first pages of Genesis, which narrate the dark and tragic episode of the sin of Adam and Eve,

Our forefathers were defeated by evil. In the fullness of time, Jesus, the new Adam, and Mary, the new Eve, definitively conquer the enemy, and this is the joy of this feast day.

With the triumph of Jesus over evil, even interior and physical death have been defeated. Mary was the first to take into her arms the Son of God, Jesus as a baby. And now, she is the first to be beside Him in the glory of Heaven.

What we celebrate today is a great mystery, which is above all, a mystery of hope and joy for all of us. In Mary, we see the goal towards which arre headed all those who can read their own life and that of Jesus, those who can follow Him as Mary did.

Thus, this feast day speaks about our future - it tells us that even we shall be with Jesus in the glory of God, and it invites us to have courage, to believe that the power of the Resurrection of Christ can work even in us and make us men and women who, every day, seek to live as 'resurrected' ones, bringing the light of good to the darkness of evil that is in the world.


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