Thursday, August 15, 2013

On the Field

Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, 2013

I imagine that most of us have a memory of watching a sports game that was particularly intense.  I remember, for example, the super bowl of 2002, when I was in college and the Patriots won for the first time in forever.  We were sitting on the edge of our seats toward the end, especially… riveted.  I don’t think there was a person on campus who was not watching the game.

I’m sure college campuses in other parts of the country weren’t as preoccupied.  For them it was not personal – it was not their team, their region that had suffered such a horrible losing streak for so long and was finally looking like it might win. 

I wonder what that night must have been like for the families of the players on the field during the game: their mothers and fathers, wives and children.  If all of us were so riveted by the drama of those final moments of the game, how much more intense that experience must have been for the family. 

Today much of this community goes about its daily work just like any other day.  August 15th means little to them.  Maybe some are aware or hear that it is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Catholic feast.  But most people are not even aware, and if they are, they are not particularly interested.  Many of those around us might as well be in Texas during a Patriots Game.

Now I suppose some might say that we are like avid Patriots fans sitting in the bleachers.  That we who celebrate the victory of Mary’s Assumption today, we all root for team Mary.  Or maybe, some might be a little more precise and say: look, we are not just Mary’s fans, we don’t just root for the team: we are her family: Jesus has given Mary to the Church, to all of us, as our mother.  So we are not just celebrating today as fans, but we are celebrating our Mother’s assumption into Heaven.
But I don’t think either of those analogies go far enough. 

Because while it is true that we are probably all big fans of Mary, and while it is also true that in Christ we are her sons and daughters and she is the mother of all believers, the reality is that you and I are not sitting in the bleachers.  You and I are on the field.  By virtue of our Baptism, what we celebrate today as we recall Mary’s Assumption into heaven is not just her victory, but our own, not just what God has done for her, but what God promises he will also give to us. 

Each time we celebrate one of these great Marian feasts, we are not only celebrating what God did for Mary and how he works through her, but we also reflect on how Mary shows us about who we are.  Mary is our mother, she is the mother of the Church: what has happened to her, what God has done in her he also offers to each of us. 

St. Bonaventure put it this way: “As the sun excels and makes glorious all the bodies of the world, so the Blessed Virgin excels and makes glorious the members of the whole Church.”
Mary is the first Christian, the first to be given the gift of eternal life by Christ, her son – the first to experience the future that Christ has promised to all of his disciples, to all of us.  She is our family, but she is also our model in faith: the sign and the pattern for what we hope will be for us as well.  She is our coach and team captain.

That is why this is a Holy Day of Obligation.  Not because the Church wants to force us into the stadium to watch some game that doesn’t concern us.  But because we are on the field and Mary shows us how to run the race, how to fight the good fight, how to compete well in the battle against sin and death, and today she shows us the prize that awaits us across the finish line. 

Our first reading today from Revelation makes Mary’s courage and strength so apparent: she gives birth into the gaping mouth of a dragon.  I cannot think of a more powerful depiction of courage.  Most women would still tremble at giving birth in a room full of saints.

And she is on the field with us.  That is the beautiful thing – she walks with us and coaches us and encourages us as we seek to follow her example of courage and of trust in her Son. 

She sings to us the battle hymn, or the fight song, in the Gospel today: the Magnificat.  It is a hymn that makes the halls of hell tremble.  A hymn of humble yet confident trust in God, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving.  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”

But today, let us remember what one of the fathers of the Church has taught us: “The Magnificat was not said once and for all in the garden at Hebron; it was put into the mouth of the Church for all the centuries.”  Christ has come to earth, is given to us in the scriptures and sacraments, has given Mary to us as our mother and guide, so that it is not only her soul that proclaims the greatness of the Lord, but so that there are thousands of souls, millions of souls who join with her on the field, singing her hymn of praise, confident that one day we too will share with her the bright victory of eternal life with her Son.

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