Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily for the Solemn Feast of Mary’s Assumption.
August 15, 2017
When my father died last September, our family received the blessing of gathering around him, united in prayer as I anointed him with the Oil of the Sick and commended him to the Lord, and then as we invited the saints and angels to escort him to his true home, where suffering and death are no more. Since that blessed moment, the last line of the Nicene Creed has become much more alive in my heart, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Today we celebrate a great event in history that occurred at the moment of the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an event that leads us beyond time into eternity: our Blessed Mother is taken, body and soul, into the glory of heaven after finishing her mission on earth.
The woman that carried the Son of God in her womb, the virgin who provided in her own body a Temple for the King of the Universe, was preserved from earthly decay at the moment of her death and she rejoices now in the presence of her dearest Son, the Eternal King of Heaven.
This is a feast of great joy and one of expectant hope. For where Mary has gone, we hope also to follow. Psalm 45 provides us fitting words to praise God for this victory of love, “The queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir… borne in with gladness and joy, [she] enters the palace of the king.”
This Assumption of Mary stands as a counter-cultural sign in a society that is more interested in the daily stock market report than in daily prayer. It holds no meaning for whoever has set his heart on things of this world that will end instead of seeking first the Kingdom of God. The Feast of the Assumption causes us to ask questions like these:
- Do I look forward to the resurrection? Or does eternal life seem unreal to me and not worth striving for?
- Does my soul long and pine for the courts of the Lord?
- What is “the life of the world to come”?
- What is the gift that the Lord Jesus gave to His Blessed Mother at the end of her earthly journey?
Let’s be clear about what eternal life is not: It is not just an endless succession of days, stretching out ad nauseum and ad infinitum where people sit around, wondering what to do next, feeling bored out of their minds.
The Eternal Life that God has prepared for us is a wondrous new quality of existence, overflowing with light and love, teeming with joy and peace and beauty. Eternal life is the wondrous blessing of being in the presence of our God, sharing in His love that has existed from all eternity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Psalm 73 points to this wondrous blessing of eternal life, when the psalmist sings (vs. 26ff): “What else have I in heaven but you? Apart from you I want nothing on earth. My body and my heart faint for joy; God is my possession for ever… To be near God is my happiness.”
At the Last Supper, Jesus revealed to the Apostles about this great mystery, when He said in prayer to His Father (Jn 17:3), “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one Whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”
The Solemn Feast of the Assumption is not just a nice idea without practical implication. On the contrary, it calls attention to our destiny, which reminds us of our dignity. We are not just creatures of earth; we are fellow citizens with the saints. As the Letter to the Hebrews says (Heb 12:22f), we “have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven.” By gazing with love on Our Lady in her heavenly glory, we remember that on earth we have no homeland. We gladly make our own the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians (1:21f), “…to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” The amazing thing is that the more we keep our eyes fixed on Christ seated at the right hand of the Father, the freer we are to love our neighbor here on earth.
Dear sons and daughters in Christ, let us rejoice and praise the Lord with such fervor that, amid all the daily difficulties here on earth, we do not lose our peace and serenity. Let us pray with the Virgin Mary her Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His Name.”
To some, it may seem like this feast is all about Mary but really it is about her beloved Son. We remember, tonight, the tender yet powerful love that He showed His mother at the time of her death, how He took her, body and soul, to be with Him forever in His heavenly kingdom, where every tear is wiped away, where death has lost its sting. One day, we pray, He will take to heaven every one of us, all who have accepted His mercy, done the will of His Father, and who, day after day, with lively faith and hope, “…look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Together with Mary, our Queen and Mother, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.