Homily for the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August 2014

Then I heard a voice shout from heaven: Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.


The Feast of the Assumption into heaven of our Blessed Lady is for us, for the whole Church, a day of joy, of celebration; a day of jubilation, a day of thanksgiving. We rejoice today that in Mary, Christ’s redeeming work is fully achieved. Today we celebrate Christ’s victory made fully manifest in Mary. We pour out today our heart-felt thanksgiving, that in Mary, the promises of the Lord have been perfectly and super-abundantly fulfilled.


Yes: today joy, and celebration, and thanksgiving: even in spite of all possible things to the contrary. And we know well there are plenty of such things. Our world remains full of all manner of suffering; all manner of sorrow, pain, and loss; all manner of evil. As if natural evils were not enough - hunger, disease, flood, drought, calamities and accidents of every kind - the evils resulting from human wickedness seem to be ever increasing. Even now, as we are all intensely aware, innocent people are being targeted, threatened, driven from their homes, bombed, shot at, terrorised, killed. We do all we can to express our solidarity with all who are in any way oppressed, irrespective of their race or creed. But in particular we think of Christians. Again and again, these days, we are reminded that Christians are overwhelmingly the most persecuted group in the world.


Should we then restrain our celebrations today, and abandon our hymns of joy, in face of so many causes for grief? No, on the contrary! Jesus very clearly warned us of persecutions to come. They are in some way part of our condition on this earth. Jesus himself suffered and died at the hands of his persecutors. The Book of the Apocalypse is full of graphic portrayals of the sufferings of the Church. In today’s reading the persecutor of the Church is portrayed as a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns. Against that dragon, the Lord organised no army of resistance, far less of conquest. Instead he commanded us to love our enemies; to forgive the wrongs that are done to us; when struck, to turn the other cheek; to avoid not just violence, but even anger. St. Paul seems to sum all this up when in Romans Chapter 8 he cries out with the Psalmist: For your sake we are put to death all day long; we are reckoned no better than sheep for the slaughter (Ps 43/44:23). And then Paul adds as if in heavenly exultation: Yet in all this we are more than conquerors through him, who has loved us (Rm 8:37).


Yes: so long as we are in Christ, we belong unambiguously to the winning side. In him we have already won the victory. Even now we know that it is better to suffer evil than to commit it. Those who perpetrate deeds of darkness are always ultimately the losers; they are the ones most to be pitied. But beyond that, God has made promises, and today’s feast reminds us that he is faithful. What he hinted to Abraham, what he said more clearly through the Prophets; what he said plainly through his Son has been fulfilled; is even now being fulfilled, will be fulfilled. Soon, very soon, the proud of heart will be finally routed; the mighty pulled down from their thrones; the rich sent away empty. As for the lowly; as for all those who belong to Christ; as for all who are united with him in his humility, and in his passion: they will be raised up.


On the feast of the Assumption we are encouraged to look up, and to look ahead, and to be consoled. So today, in the first place, we look up. We see Mary our Mother at the height of heaven, so beautiful, so radiant, bathed in eternal glory. At the foot of the Cross she endured unimaginable suffering, yet now she is set far above all the Saints, above even all the Angels, established for ever as Queen of heaven. Is she then set so high as to be now out of our reach, remote, no longer concerned with us, her children in this world; occupied only with her own eternal joy? No, no! The Assumption of Mary signals not the separation of heaven from earth, but precisely their union. There is only one Church, in heaven and on earth. So Mary, as figure and Mother of the Church, of Christ’s Mystical Body, ever bends down in love to u; she ever listens to our prayer; she is ever powerful to help us; she is ever ready and willing to lead us to salvation.


So today we look up to her; but also we look ahead, to the time when we hope to be with her in heaven. We can’t imagine what heaven will be like, but our holy faith does tell us things about it which are certain. So we know that in heaven, with Mary, we will live in the presence of the Holy Trinity. There we will be not just free from sin, but in a state where sin has been definitively conquered; all its power utterly destroyed. In our own bodies, with Mary, we will be not just beyond death, but in a state of triumph over death. With Mary, we will be in glory, shining with the very holiness of God, because united with God, filled with God. And like Mary, our heavenly existence will be defined by love; ever surrounded by love, ever rejoicing in love, ever able to pour out our own love in return. And I suppose, among all the joys of heaven, surely one of the very greatest will be the eternal company of our Blessed Mother Mary.


Today is the Patronal Feast of this monastery, dedicated as it is from mediaeval times to our Blessed Lady. So we turn to her today in prayer. We ask that she may watch over this community, and help us remain faithful to our vocation. We ask her to help us live the contemplative monastic life, ever turned like her towards the Lord. May we give him true glory, and may we bear effective witness to his beauty and goodness and truth. May our prayers for the suffering Church and world also be heard; and may our own numbers be increased with the arrival of good new vocations. Amen.