Today is the Feast of the Assumption. Marian feasts remind me of my mother because for as long as I could remember, she had a devotion to Mary. When mom was into the hospital, she kept a rosary next to her bed, just like at home. We often prayed it together in her two months of confinement. The last time I drove to the hospital, on the day Mom died, she wasn’t conscious. I spoke to her and held her hand, but no visible response came. So I picked up the rosary and began to pray Joyful Mysteries, maybe the most memorable “Mother” moments of Mary’s life – moments of such deep and wild grace that blessed her life and the lives of all moms who celebrate, what I’ve always felt is the sacrament of motherhood.
With Mom bound to a bed, the rosary helped her escape the limitation of illness and loneliness, and feel the familiar connection to Mary and the community of faith that had nourished her for a lifetime. How do I know this? Well, while her response to my presence in the room was barely visible, there was a point while I was praying aloud when the monitor in the room changed. I looked up and saw signs that her heart rate, her pulse and her breathing were different. And then I looked down at her face and I saw a tear trickling down her cheek.
What I discovered that day is that the rosary, and all prayer, I guess, is more than a sum of its words. It’s a relationship that engages us spiritually and physically. The monitors crystallized that for me, as did Mom’s tear. My mother’s body and soul seemed to be in sync, even though that wasn’t clear until the technology brought it to my attention.
Science says that prayer changes us. Our neurochemistry responds, our thoughts, and our breath are noticeably different when we pray. Science makes the mind/body connection indisputable, but Mary’s assumption linked the two before we had the science.
The First Reading today is from the Book of Revelation. Our imaginations are ignited with the image of a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon beneath her feet and a crown of stars above her head.Today’s psalmist casts a queen before us accompanied by beauty, joy and gladness. These are the words that inspired the artists of the Renaissance to create countless portrayals of Mary being assumed into heaven. There is no gospel account of the Assumption, which is why today’s gospel tells the story of The Visitation and Mary’s proclamation of the Magnificat.
It wasn’t until All Saints Day in 1950 that Pope Pius XII defined Mary's Assumption into heaven as dogma, stating the church’s belief that Mary’s “yes” - the yes that changed the world as she proclaimed the greatness of the Lord heard in the Magnificat today, permeated her entire being. Today’s gospel tells us that the infant was leaping in her womb as her spirit was rejoicing. Mind and heart, body and soul, flesh and bone – everything in Mary, and everything about Mary - her words, her womb and her spirit, committed completely to God’s will. She was so totally dedicated that her body and her soul could not be separated when her time on earth came to a close.
God consecrated the female body, not only the womb that would welcome the Incarnation, but the breasts that provided mother’s milk to the Messiah and her poor, post-partum body that rode a donkey into exile, emigrating to Egypt with a newborn, so far from her own mother and the comfort and companionship of her cousin Elizabeth. Consecrated too, was the physical anxiety that drove the frenzied search for the boy who went missing in Jerusalem after the Passover; the gut-wrenching pain of people turning against her son, calling him crazy, plotting his demise and abandoning him in the hour of his death. Holy was the commitment standing on Calvary, drawing on a physical and emotional strength so intrinsic to who Mary was, that it seems to have been cellular, similar to the courage born in her marrow bone, to borrow an expression from Irish poet, William Butler Yeats:
She that sings a lasting song, Thinks in a marrow-bone.
Mary’s “yes” made her whole, a wholeness for which we all long. She shared so singleheartedly, so fully in the life of Jesus, that God invited Mary to share fully in his resurrection. If heaven could welcome a female body, why can’t the hierarchy? Its own dogma says a woman’s womb brought God’s will to fruition and her breasts nourished God’s dream for the world. If a woman could hold Jesus in his lifetime and raise him to be the man who consecrated the world, why can’t a woman hold Jesus and raise him on the altar? Why can’t a woman consecrate bread and wine while praying the words of our Eucharistic prayer: “This is my body…..” It was her body that gave us Jesus! Why can’t a woman’s body give us Jesus from the altar everyday? Why can’t our church say “yes” as Mary did?
The prayer that remembers the life of Mary and the fruit of her womb, changed my mother’s life, and her death. And I know from her last tear, her parting gift to me, that if we say “yes” as Mary did, we can become whole - as individuals, and maybe, someday, as a church.
Pat McDonough has enjoyed a thirty-five year career as a Catholic educator and school psychologist in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Her experience in pastoral ministry spans years as a Director of Religious Education, Director of Youth Ministry, Coordinator of Programs in the Diocesan Office of Family Ministry, and professor of psychology and theology in Catholic high schools and colleges on Long Island. Her deepest experiences of discipleship have been leading mission trips to Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Appalachia, Pacific Northwest and Native American reservations. Pat also had the good fortune to chaperone a group of Catholic and Jewish teens to Israel with Project Understanding, an interfaith organization dedicated to promoting respect and appreciation for religious differences. She remains an avid supporter of Catholic Worker in NYC, where the discipleship of Dorothy Day continues to make Catholic social teaching a reality for the hungry, the homeless and the lonely.
Pat has written on issues of faith, family life, spirituality and human development in her column, Family Faith, which ran in The Long Island Catholic for eleven years. Pat has been a contributing author to The New York Times, Newsday, The National Catholic Reporter, The Catholic Digest and The American Catholic. She is a popular speaker, often bringing her experience as both a professional and a parent to providing retreats and professional days to school faculties and parishes throughout the tri-state area.
Pat is mother to three grown children, her trinity of blessings. And just when she thought life couldn’t get better, she became a grandmother.
Pat holds a P.D. in Psychology, M.S. in Education, M.A. in Theology and a B.S. in Criminal Justice. She completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius over the course of an unforgettable thirty days as a graduate student.
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