The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven on August 15th. We believe that Mary was assumed into Heaven body and soul after she followed her son in death. Many Catholics and non-Catholics alike tend to wrongly see the Assumption as a sign that the Catholic Church sees Mary as a goddess. This view misses the role that Mary has been given in Salvation History. Like Moses, King David and so many others, God chose Mary to lead humanity to the Covenant. Her role is to lead us to her son. So how does her Assumption into Heaven body and spirit lead us to? And what can Catholic families do to follow her more faithfully to Jesus?
1. Change Your View of Death
God did not create humanity to die. In Eden, he gave the Tree of Life. He created us for unending relationship with Him as his children. But sin brought death into the world. Sin tears everything apart. It separates. Death is the separation of the body from the spirit. It’s the rending apart of God’s most wondrous creation – the human person. Death is a great horror – so much so that even Jesus faced great anxiety about it in the Garden of Gethsemane (at least that was part of his anguish).
But when Jesus freely embraced death in payment for our sins and conquered it through his Resurrection, he transformed death into an act of saving love. His disciples don’t need to be anxious about death anymore. Jesus has conquered it. By his grace, we can conquer it too. Jesus transformed suffering and death into an act of love. By his grace we can suffer and die for love of others too. Jesus made death a door to glory. By his grace we can pass through the door of death into the glory of the eternal kingdom.
Yet, how do we treat death as Catholics? Listen to what people say at wakes and funerals. Things like:
- “It’s such a shame. She was so young.”
- “He lived a good life.”
- “At least she’s not suffering anymore.”
- “He’ll always live on… in our memories.”
These statements reflect a secular vision of death. While they might seem nice, sympathetic things to say to the grieving, the problem with every one of these statements is that it lacks hope.
Mary’s assumption into Heaven does not show us how special she is. Her assumption into Heaven body and spirit reveals to us what is in store for all of Jesus’ followers. In the glory of Heaven, Jesus will put back together that which sin and death have separated. Mary leads us to the glory and the healing of her Son. Following Mary to Jesus should change the way we see death.
Following Mary to Jesus should help us to see death as something that we embrace in love, and as a door to walk through in hope on our way to glory. And that brings us to the second way we can follow Mary more faithfully to Jesus – live in hope.
2. Live in True Hope
Mary trusted in salvation. We know that trust was one of Mary’s greatest virtues because of her response to the Archangel Gabriel when he announced to her God’s plan to bring the savior into the world through her. Her response was one of total trust. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word.” In other words, Mary had hope.
Most of us think of hope as something akin to wishful thinking. We use it in everyday terms in sayings like, “I hope I get an A on that test.” We tend to think in the same terms when we talk about our hope of Heaven. But Mary shows us what hope really is. Hope is trust.
Like many little boys, my nephew loves to jump into the swimming pool into the hands of a trusted adult. He can’t swim and he really doesn’t want his face to go under the water. So he stands at the edge of the pool and his face shows very clearly the mixture of excitement and fear. But he works up the courage and he jumps, trusting that his uncle will catch him the same way his daddy does. That’s hope.
Fortified with grace, believers in Jesus can face both life and death the same way. We look at death and at many trials of life with fear. But we trust that Jesus will catch us on the other side. We trust because we know that He went through the door of death and came out glorified. We trust because he tells us “Come and follow me.”
And Mary did. All her life Mary trusted and followed Jesus. That’s why she received the reward on the other side of death of being made whole once again.
So live by Jesus’ words. Do not worry about what tomorrow will bring. Instead, trust in God every day to take care of you. Exercising that trust is the virtue of hope.
3. Build hope in your children
Our world needs hope today – desperately. Have you noticed how eroded trust has become in our world? We can’t even trust doctors and medical professionals anymore, as many choices they make are dictated by the business interests surrounding the “medical industry.” Yes, it could be argued that there is good reason not to trust. After all, we don’t want to get taken advantage of, do we? But without trust, no real relationships can form. Parents want to teach their children how to form good relationships. How can we build trust in our children? How can we strengthen their hope?
The best thing we can do for young children is to protect their innocence. Our culture understands the idea of childlike innocence in strictly sexual terms (thank you, Sigmund Freud). But the Church really means it in a broader sense. we need to shelter our children from the stresses, concerns, and trials of the adult world until they are emotionally mature enough to handle it. Our children need to learn that the world is a predictable place, filled with goodness. Adults can hang onto this knowledge despite the stresses and trials that come with that goodness. Children can’t. Teach your children that they can trust you. Show them that you trust your friends and loved ones. Most of all, teach them that you trust God.
As your children grow, your task becomes more complex. You need to teach them that to be a good friend means to will the good of the other – to truly love. But you also have to teach them that true relationships (friendships, romance, etc.) require time to build trust, intimacy, commitment and love. Do you see the balance? Be careful who you give your heart to, but don’t be afraid to give yourself to those you learn to trust.