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On her Assumption, remember Mary’s agonies

August 18, 2019

On her Assumption, remember Mary’s agonies 1


The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into heaven, celebrated last Thursday, has been commemorated by Christians since the early centuries. The belief, affirmed as Catholic dogma by Pope Pius 12th in 1950, is that God will not allow His Mother to undergo corruption, just as He preserved her from original sin in her Immaculate Conception.

On this occasion, we reprise in part the article on Mary published during the Solemnity of the Assumption four years ago:

Early Christians believed that Mary left this world and this life in Ephesus, on the southwest coast of present-day Turkey. St. John, to whom the crucified Jesus entrusted His mother, is said to have brought her away from Jerusalem during the persecution of the faith, which began five years after the Easter events, and by the year 42, had led to St. Peter’s crucifixion in Rome.

Christian tradition had it that the apostle and evangelist built Mary a house on Mount Nightingale, near Ephesus. In 1891, French abbot Fr. Julien Gouyet found the ruins, guided by the visions of German mystic Anne

Catherine Emmerich (1774 to 1824). The house was restored as a pilgrimage site cared for by the Franciscan religious order and visited by 1.5 million people yearly, including Muslims honoring Mary, called Miriam in the Koran.

Well and good. But in our daily war against our fallen selves and world, it may often be more comforting to have a fellow sinner falling, rising and falling again on the slippery slope with us than an utterly spotless Madonna hovering above in dazzling light.

Our Lady suffered with humanity

So, is Mary just good for praying and kneeling, rosary beads in hand, but not the shoulder-to-shoulder lift we get from fellow fallen comrades-in-arms in our rearguard action against the daily assaults of human weakness and worldly allure?

Not so fast. In fact, the Blessed Virgin Mary, like our Lord, went through all the troubles of our human existence, so we can certainly look to her as a fellow sojourner, suffering as much, if not far more than you and me.

After all, how many of us have had to flee on a mule to another country days after giving birth amid unkempt beasts in a manger, with the king’s murderous soldiers searching for us? Or hearing from a revered temple sage that our only son would suffer and “a sword would pierce” our heart? Not to mention losing the young boy years later in the biggest city in the kingdom.

Then, of course, there was Calvary and all the gore before and after the Cross. Hearing the crowd call for our son’s crucifixion. Watching him lashed 40 times, then crowned with thorns that dig into his skull. Following him as he carried the instrument of his execution on the road to the hill of death.

Feeling in our heart every nail pounded into his wrists and feet, and every paroxysm of pain as his body tugged downward on the pierced extremities. And even after death had given Jesus peace, the horror of seeing the wounds on his mangled corpse and reliving again the agony of every bruise, laceration and spearing. Then finally consigning the lifeless son to the tomb and being enveloped by the indelible darkness of being alone.

Now, which would Mary have preferred, dying like the rest of humanity, or seeing her beloved Jesus suffer that very fate? Like every mother, she would have traded places with her son. Plainly, she suffered agonies for worse than the death brought by sin.

There was even a gushing wound that Mary felt, but Jesus didn’t: the lance piercing his corpse’s breast and heart, from which poured blood and water, symbolizing the two greatest sacraments of baptism, liberating humanity from sin, and the Eucharist, making us one with God. For many Bible scholars, that saving flood marked the birth of the Church, along with Jesus making us Mary’s children and therefore, his brothers and sisters, when he made Mary and the Beloved Disciple mother and son.

Like us, Mary faced the test of faith

Okay, one might say, the Blessed Virgin can certainly stand with us in suffering the agonies and injustice of this world. But she’s lucky she never had to fight temptation, which we and even our Lord had to face, right?

Well, we don’t know that, since the Gospels don’t say much about Mary’s own trials. But there are a few things we can reasonably surmise.

First, the devil who didn’t spare the Son of God from his lures and blandishments certainly would have even fewer qualms about trying to sway His human mother. And one trial might have been the temptation to blab about the Angel Gabriel’s message, if only to spare herself from Joseph’s doubt and society’s censure over her unexplained pregnancy. But she kept silent, keen to avoid calling attention to herself.

Second, Mary had her uncomfortable moments with Jesus, admonishing the adolescent over His three-day disappearance, and turning to Him when wine ran out at the wedding feast in Cana, even if, as Jesus said, it was not yet His time.

Third and most important, Mary, like Jesus, faced the most difficult trial for every human being, which is life’s paramount challenge in the view of our faith: Will I believe and trust in God, and lovingly embrace His will?

So it was when the Angel Gabriel addressed her, when the Holy Family journeyed to Egypt and back to Nazareth, when Simeon spoke of future anguish for her and her Son, when that prophecy came to pass on Good Friday, and when the infant Church was persecuted after Jesus ascended to heaven.

As we face the very same trials of our faith, hope and love for God, let our belief in Jesus and Mary’s rise to heaven and strengthen our belief that they are with us still, uplifting us, and will welcome us to the Eternal Kingdom. Amen.

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