Posted by: frroberts | August 15, 2017

Assumption Homily

Lunches while I was a seminarian at the North American College in Rome from 2003-2007 were usually an interesting experience.  One Sunday I sat down at a table only to realize later that I was sitting with George Weigel and the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago!  Typically, however, what made lunches in seminary interesting was not the presence of larger than life figures in the Church, but the give and take between classmates.  Oftentimes we would discuss theology or the adventures of life in the Eternal City.   Sometimes we would discuss our “apostolic works” — formal seminary speak for our pastoral training that took place while we were full-time theology students.

The most interesting story I heard during my four years studying theology came from a classmate whose apostolic work was to give tours of Saint Peter’s Basilica.   Saint Peter’s was built on the Vatican Hill, outside of ancient Rome, precisely because it was there that the bones of Saint Peter were buried after he was martyred.  The high altar in the Basilica is built over the tomb of Peter.  Peter is not the only saint whose remains lie in Saint Peter’s.  Under most of the altars there are the mortal remains of a saint.   One day at the end of a tour when my classmate gave the pilgrims time to ask questions, an American spoke up and asked, “I just have one question…where do you guys keep the bones of Jesus?”  An awkward pause followed.

The empty tomb of Christ constitutes one of the central, if not the central, point in the Christian faith.  We must always keep in mind the physicality of the Resurrection.  Jesus’ human body actually rose on Easter Sunday and is in heaven right now.  In this language we recognize elements that go beyond our experience, so it is important that we do not interpret them in overly physical ways.

What does it mean when we say that all of Jesus’ human nature, His body included, is in heaven right now?

At the very least, it means that our Lord’s human nature has become fully divinized, totally permeated by the glory of His divine nature.  We are in very deep water here and need to make two things clear:

(1) While distinct, Christ’s human and divine natures are always united in one divine Person after His incarnation.  That is to say, we can never speak of a human nature in Jesus’ person as ever being separated from His divine nature.

(2) Jesus’ human nature becomes more and more divinized quantitatively but not qualitatively, until His Ascension.  Thus, Saint Luke recounts that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.”   This dynamic movement is especially true in the case of the Paschal Mystery, wherein the Second person of the Blessed Trinity experienced death and being dead by means of the human nature He took to Himself.  In some sense we can say that in His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension that Jesus’ human nature became fully divinized–not because it was not divine before these events, but in the sense that His divinity filled up the human experiences that defined the end of His natural life and beyond.

Turning to the feast that Mother Church celebrates today, the Assumption of the Mother of God into heaven, we encounter a curious thing.  No city in Christian history has ever claimed to have any relics of Mary’s body.  In the days of faith, cities would often have competing claims to relics of saints.  Wars were even fought over such claims and relics.  Dan Brown’s fictional claim in the Da Vinci Code that Mary Magdalene’s bones were lost is laughable in this sense because there are three different cities in France that have claimed to have them!

Mary’s body is in heaven with God.  Our Lord’s first and greatest disciple has followed Him into glory.  In heaven Mary enjoys by grace that which Jesus experiences by nature, participation in the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4)  The Assumption is the revelation of Mary’s divinization, not meaning that Mary is now metaphysically divine, but that her human nature has become like her Son’s to the extent that she participates fully in the life of the Trinity like He does in His humanity.

Mary is the Hope of all Christians because we hope to follow her where she has gone already.  If we die in a state of friendship with God, we can look forward to our souls being gloriously reunited to our bodies on the last day and experiencing the same glory in heaven that Mary does today.  We will share in this glory because our human natures will be conformed to Christ’s, and be, like Mary’s full participants by grace in the divine nature.  The Assumption of Mary into Heaven, Body and Soul shows us the goal of our life as Christians.  If we are open to grace, we will, after much purification either here on earth or in Purgatory, become godlike just like our mother Mary is now.


Responses

  1. Well explained for the novice and the rest of us on this feast of the assumption of Mary.

    Like


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