Last week, joined by Fr. Miguel Gonzalez and five of our seminarians, I participated in a four day walking pilgrimage through back roads of New Jersey to the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It was about 65 miles, it wasn’t easy. About 2,000 people participated – mostly Poles who continue this tradition of their native Poland – but such a pilgrimage, in the heat and rain, sleeping in tents with no showers or flushing toilets (well, the seminarians and 2000 pilgrims slept in tents, Fr. Miguel and myself commuted to the monastery at night) but such a pilgrimage is undertaken precisely to remind ourselves that we all are pilgrims on this earth. Our vocation – the reason why we are put on this earth – is to journey to heaven. God who created us in his own image and likeness did not create us just to die but for himself. To go to heaven is to go to God, to live with God.
Today, we celebrate the day of Mary’s birth in heaven; and the end of her earthly pilgrimage. Pope Pius XII expressed the constant belief of the Church when in 1950 he solemnly define the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in these words: …”the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” CC#966
These words resonate with the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading:
“For just as in Adam all die,
So too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
But each one in proper order:
Christ the first fruits;
Then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ.”
The trajectory of Mary’s life was always “God-ward” Full of grace from the very moment of her conception, Mary Immaculate never ceased to grow in grace before God. Her pilgrimage did not know some of the detours or even u-turns that we sinners oftentimes take in our own pilgrimage. When we observe her at the various landmarks that outline the trajectory of her pilgrimage we see her always faithful, always moving forward, always straining towards God and his will. The mystery of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul into heaven, becomes more evident in the light of these spiritual landmarks of her earthly existence: the Annunciation, the Nativity, Calvary and the Resurrection, and then Pentecost., all these landmarks along her way lead inevitably to her glorious assumption. Mary was taken up into heaven because she was immaculate, sinless; she was taken up into heaven and was immaculate because of her divine motherhood.
With Baptism we are incorporated into Christ and come to share in his Risen Life. In the pilgrimage of risen people whom Christ brings with him to heaven, Mary comes first, with Christ and for Christ. But Mary’s vocation is the Church’s vocation. In the vivid imagery of the Book of Revelation, as the woman clothed in the sun, she represents us – and she precedes us.
The Assumption, then, celebrates Mary but also consoles us – for in taking Mary into Heaven Body and Soul God assures us that he keeps his promises. The affirmation we shall make in the Apostles’ Creed we recite is not just wishful thinking: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” Such an affirmation of faith is believable; it is credible because it has been promised us. We believe in the promise because of Jesus who has promised us; and, we believe because in Mary the promise already has been kept
Mary never forgets she is the handmaid of the Lord, nor does she forget the gratuitous goodness of the Lord. And that we might not forget, her Magnificant closes the day in our evening prayer. Mary in heaven carries out a ministry of intercession on our behalf – ever in communion with her son. Although we are sinners we commend ourselves full of trust to this mother of ours so that after our earthly pilgrimage we too might live in God.
Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.