During the month of August, a slow but definite change is taking place in the amount of daylight we receive each day. Since June, our days have been growing shorter in daylight and by this time of August, if we are observant of it, we can actually see the difference. The sun rises a little later each morning and sets a little later each day, casting longer shadows upon the earth, which continues to tilt away from the sun in a cycle by which we measure time. As I reflected in my previous column, time moves ahead, and by mid-August, we are more than halfway through the year which is noticeable in our perception of the sun.
How fitting it is that the Solemnity of Mary's Assumption occurs during the middle of this month. This year as we celebrate this great feast on Sunday, August 15, we rejoice in the reality that Mary was raised, body and soul, into heaven at the end of her earthly journey. The reading from the book of Revelation which is proclaimed at Mass reminds us of the power of the sun which lights our world. However, it does so in a manner that reflected Mary's power to transcend the sun and the other elements of the universe as she is taken into eternity. The reading tells us, "A great portent appeared in the heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars" (Rev 12:1). This is a beautiful image evoking the glory of Mary which reaches its fulfillment as she is assumed into heaven.
Last year on the Solemnity of the Assumption, Pope Francis referred to a great event that was commemorated a year prior, the fiftieth anniversary of the landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. On that occasion, as the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, took his first step on the moon, his first words were, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The Pope expressed that Mary’s Assumption into heaven was “the huge leap forward for humanity.” He emphasized that the Assumption shines, “as a sign of sure hope and solace for the People of God during its sojourn on earth.”
Mary is the first to share fully in the fullness of redemption which Christ obtained for us by his Cross and Resurrection. She is the perfect disciple and holds out to all of us the sure hope that is ours in Christ. Her body did not experience any corruption in death as does ours but, like her Son, she was taken body and soul into heaven. We will await the resurrection of our bodies as our souls are taken into eternity. For Mary, it has all taken place as she now reigns as Queen of Heaven, beckoning all of us to the culmination of our lives in heaven. Indeed, it can be said that in Mary heaven and earth come together as God had intended it to be.
The Assumption is above all a feast of hope, of sure hope. It is the feast that reminds us of where we are all heading and of our ultimate home in heaven. While what God has given to us in this life is good and meant to make us happy, it is temporary and passes away before us as each day of our lives passes. We are on a journey to eternal life where ultimately all in this world will be transformed into the fullness of God’s kingdom. Mary has made the journey perfectly and reminds us of what awaits us all. It is this hope that gives us life and purpose and also enables us to have hope in the difficult situations we sometimes face in our life.
To better understand the role of Mary, “the woman clothed with the sun,” is to understand that she is not the sun but is enlightened by it. The Gospel of St. John makes clear that Christ is the light of the world who has come to dispel all darkness and to bring us to life. As Mary is clothed with the sun, she has fully put on Jesus Christ as we are beckoned to do at our baptism when we are clothed with the white garment. As darkness is dispelled, hope appears. Mary is the dawn of all hope as she reflects the light which has come into the world.
The importance of hope, as lived by Mary, is well summed up in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength. ... They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint” (Is 40:31). These words make clear that God gives strength to those who hope and trust in him. Mary is the embodiment of this type of hope. She never doubted God’s promise and always reflected light to those who came into her presence. This is clear from the joy that Mary brought to her cousin, Elizabeth, and to the strength that she gave to the apostles. No one else possessed the hope of Mary, not even John the Baptist. The Baptist needed to be reassured of who Christ was, but Mary never faltered. Mary, again, embodied the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Though many faint and grow weary and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, ... they will soar as with eagles wings" (Is 40:30, 31). It is the soaring into eternal life which is the focus of all hope and Mary's Assumption is the ultimate sign of this hope for all of us.
As the month of August continues to move ahead and the amount of daylight slowly decreases around us, we realize that our lives also are moving forward and ultimately into eternal life. Mary, clothed with the sun, reflects for us the light of Christ which is the source of all of our hope. We move ahead with great confidence knowing that life has purpose found only in God. We move ahead knowing that all the limitations of this world will ultimately pass away and one day we will see God face to face. Mary's Assumption reminds us that God's kingdom will ultimately come, and our lives will be clothed in the fullness of light. May Mary, Queen of Heaven, "the woman clothed with the sun," continue to be our hope and guide.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 13, 2021