We are almost past midway of the month of August and we can see the days are getting visibly shorter. The summer is quickly moving to its informal closing on Labor Day, and it does not seem quite possible that the year 2023 is already well more than halfway spent. School has already started, and the pace of life will change in southern Florida. Time slowly but surely moves forward.
It is fitting that, on Aug. 15, we will be celebrating the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary as it reminds us of our journey through life. As time moves forward, so do the days of our lives. That movement is a natural one and will eventually result in us moving from time into eternity. However, Mary’s Assumption puts that movement into a wonderful perspective. She, too, had to depart from this world, but her departure reminds us that we are put in this world precisely for that departure. Unfortunately, the consequences of original sin have brought an uncomfortableness and even pain to that departure. However, it was not meant to be that way. The Assumption of Mary helps to restore a necessary perspective of faith that reminds us that heaven is within reach.
Mary’s Assumption into heaven was infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on Aug. 15, 1950. He stated, “Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” Mary’s life in this world had to be completed, as do all of ours. Whether she knew the time of its completion or how it would come about cannot be determined. However, when her earthly life was completed, she was the first to share in the fullness of her Son’s Resurrection by being raised bodily into heaven. Like Christ, Mary shares in the life of heaven as no other. She has a privileged place, but one that is meant to remind us of what we anticipate.
Mary’s Assumption, body and soul, is a reminder of the reality of original sin. While that sin has been forgiven, many of its effects remain. Suffering, the pain of death and that caused by its separation are still real. The material world, including the body, still retains the imperfections that original sin inflicted. When we die, our bodies will not be assumed into heaven at the same time but will await the final coming of Christ when the full effects of the Resurrection will be experienced. However, all that pertains to our souls and spiritual lives have been healed. Our souls, like Mary’s, will experience eternity and communion with God and the saints, but our bodies, unlike Mary’s, will await the final Coming of Christ.
The Assumption of Mary also points to the sanctity of the material world and of the human body. Christ would not live bodily in heaven if our bodies were not holy and temples of the Holy Spirit. Nor would Mary have been assumed, body and soul, as a sign of the full effects of the redemption, if our bodily existence were not a good and holy aspect of our human lives. Mary’s Assumption is a sign of what still is to come for all of us and for our loved ones. It is also a sign of the goodness of God’s creation marred by sin but restored by Christ.
The completion of Mary’s life and her Assumption into heaven are vivid reminders of the passing of life. While the consequences of original sin bring pain to that passing, that pain is minor in relationship to the happiness of eternal life. It is good to be alive and to want to hold on to earthly life. Nevertheless, there comes a point when we must realize it is time to let go. Without the effects of original sin, this would be an easy and even joyful thing to do. The effects of original sin still test our faith, but it is faith that gives true meaning to life. That meaning is most fully expressed in our belief in the afterlife and the hope of resurrection.
All of us face transitions in our lives. They are not all easy, and many of the elements of death are included in these transitions. They remind us that someday we will have to move from this life into the next, and that will also be a very difficult transition to make. However, heaven is our ultimate home, and every transition in this life is meant to bring us there. Mary’s passage from this world and her Assumption into heaven are wonderful reminders of this beautiful reality. The passage of time at this juncture of the year during August, when we celebrate the Assumption, makes it a fitting backdrop.
The words of Pope Francis last year on the solemnity of the Assumption are well to reflect upon as we continue our earthly journey in the passing of life. “Brothers and sisters, Mary today sings of hope and rekindles hope in us. In her, we see the destination of our journey. She is the first creature who, with her whole self, body and soul, victoriously crosses the finishing line of Heaven. She shows us that Heaven is within reach. How come? Yes, Heaven is within reach.”
A blessed solemnity of the Assumption!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 11, 2023