Good morning everybody–Happy Feast Day!
It’s the Assumption of Mary into heaven and the question is, What can that feast and its historical meanings probably or possibly have to say to us today?
Well, first of all, the Feast of the Assumption is the feast of Mary’s total identity with the mind and heart of God.
But, what does it have to say to us? With our lives and our struggles, with our erratic attempts to give ourselves totally to God while the world around us, and never forget, the world within us, too, is clamoring ceaselessly for our attention? And if truth were known, they want our commitment as well.
The fact is that life can be a very sticky thing: there are some things that simply cannot be escaped. For instance, remember that feeling of failure that can cling to a person for years, maybe; or possibly that great sense of loss that weighed our hearts to the ground, perhaps; or the notion that what we have been striving for all our lives and we’ll never be able to claim it again as we had hoped, slipped our grasp.
Oh, indeed, life is not what we expected it to be in the here and now. In fact, life is not what we want it to be–ever.
So where do we go when people make light of our dashed desires and say to us “Would you just forget it! You’ll get over it….time cures everything.”
Really? Well, maybe it does, if by “cure” you mean that all of life simply goes dull now. The sharp pain of disappointment has ended that’s true, but nothing good it seemed has come to replace it.
So, we reconcile ourselves to life in the slow lane after all, there’s nothing to rush to now, is there?
There’s nothing left to hope for and what was once our faith in the god of good times has gone dry.
So what are we to do, except maybe stop trying so hard. But then when we do that, we lose our sense of purpose or we simply go through the motions maybe, but down deep the cavern of disappointment still lingers there, still darkens our souls, still depresses our spirit mightily. It takes the joy out of the very footprints and footsteps of life.
It’s then, however, that two images call us beyond ourselves: First the song of the psalmist.
Oh sure, long forgotten maybe but listen carefully, because at these moments it is crying out to us again.
Just when we feel that things can’t get much worse, Psalm 16 sings in the far reaches of our dulled souls: “You will not allow the one you love to see the pit; you will reveal the path of life to me, you will give me unbounded joy in your presence."
Indeed, the message is clear, isn’t it? Those whom God loves, the psalm promises and Mary of Nazareth was raised to know, that those persons will be raised up above the thousand daily deaths that come into every life.
When we refuse to become imprisoned by things and status and ambition and self and greed–the greed of the society–our souls are set free and our bodies are unburdened to rise with our hearts up to live again.
Life then becomes livable. Enough becomes enough. God becomes God again.
Where can we go to find someone whose life is not tethered to the earth to the point of death? What model is there for us of the possibility? What proof do we have that we too can rise above the fleeting things we want, to become what we can fully, wholly become?
What hope do we have that however much we’ve lost before and may in fact be losing now, at this moment, there is there is much more yet to be gained of the good and the true and the really beautiful in life?
It is all a matter, you see, of learning to let go, of letting go of what it is that chains us to earth.
And that’s exactly when the Feast of the Assumption takes on the meaning that our childhood spiritual imaginations could never summon, could never have seen.
It’s to Mary, the model of all our losses in life;
It’s to Mary, the mother of hope in the midst of despair;
It’s to Mary, the woman of courage, who sees everything in her life lost and eternal commitment reaching down and lifting her up to find the higher, the richer, the more meaningful things of life, as she did, both here and hereafter.
The answer to that kind of depression that comes with loss and failure, being chained to the things of earth, surely is Mary of the Assumption whose love of God lifted her far above the loves and goals and gains of those who had never really seen the Christ for what he was because their mind’s eye was taken up totally with what they were themselves.
It can become, you see, all about me.
Then, Mary of the Assumption teaches us to keep our eyes on the things of heaven; to free ourselves from the fetters of anything lesser; to develop a vision larger than ourselves and outside of ourselves; and to allow ourselves to be lifted up beyond the petty and the transient to the eternal and the unalloyed.
Mary of the Assumption is a sign of what we can also become, if we are willing to let go of what we have planned for ourselves and lift our hearts to higher things.
The prayer at the heart of this great feast, of total immersion in the mind and will and heart of God, is: “Mary, woman of freedom, be with me–as we struggle with whatever it is that is holding us down again.”
Happy Feast Day, Happy Assumption in your own life forever.
Joan Chittister, OSB
Joan Chittister is an articulate social analyst and influential religious leader of this age. For over 35 years she has dedicated herself to advocating for universal recognition of the critical questions impacting the global community. Courageous, passionate and charged with energy, she is a much-sought after speaker, commentator, counselor and clear voice across all religions.
A Benedictine Sister of Erie, PA, Sister Joan is an international lecturer and award-winning author of over 50 books. She has won 16 Catholic Press Association awards for her books, as well as numerous awards for her work for justice, peace, and equality, especially for women, in church and in society. In April 2017 her newest book, Radical Spirit, was published by Random House.
A founding member of The Global Peace Initiative of Women, a partner organization of the UN, she works to develop a worldwide network of women peace builders. As co-chair of this group she has facilitated gatherings of spiritual leaders throughout the Middle East, in Asia, Africa, the Far East and Europe in an effort to spread an interfaith commitment to peace building, equality and justice for all peoples.
A regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, Sister Joan has received numerous awards and recognition for her work including the U.S. Catholic magazine award For Furthering the Cause of Women in the Church and twelve honorary degrees from US colleges and universities.
She has served as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, (an organization of the leaders/superiors of Catholic religious women in the US), president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses (197490), and was prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie for 12 years.
Sister Joan received her Masters degree from the University of Notre Dame and her Doctorate from Penn State University in Speech Communications Theory. In 1996 she was a visiting research fellow at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge University and the Von Huegel lecturer there.
She is the founder and executive director of Benetvision: a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality located in Erie.