Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption, Year C.
One of the most painful experiences in life is to feel like there’s no one you can talk to. If there’s no one you can turn to in times of trouble, you’re more likely to feel lonely and isolated. You’re also more likely to feel that you’re the only one who’s ever gone through what you’re struggling with and that you’ll never get through it or overcome it. No matter how young or old we are, we all need someone we can trust, who can listen to us, show us compassion, and help us find a path forward.
If we have a good relationship with our parents, often our mother, father, or both, can serve this role. But most of us outlive our parents and eventually have to find someone else to turn to. But this is not easy, and often a close friend or peer can’t entirely fill this void. And even if we find someone we can trust, we can sometimes be afraid of confiding in them, because that might change the way they look at us. In short, in a world of almost eight billion people, finding even one person we can talk to in times of trouble can be a difficult task.
One of the great things about being Catholic is that we not only have Jesus who we can turn to in times of trouble, but we also have the saints, and especially Mother Mary. To paraphrase a famous Beatles’ song: When we find ourselves in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to us. And in our hour of darkness, she is standing is standing right in front of us. Although Mary has been assumed, body and soul, into heaven, she is closer to us than any earthly mother could be. And we can always turn to her in times of trouble. She is someone we can trust completely, who will listen to us, show us compassion, and help us find a path forward. And we need never be afraid of confiding in her, because no matter what we share with her, it will never change how she looks at us.
In our readings today, Mary is compared to the Ark of the Covenant. And if you have some familiarity with the Old Testament—or if you’ve at least seen Raiders of the Lost Ark—then you might know some facts about the Ark. First, the Ark contained three things: (1) the tablets of the Ten Commandments; (2) a portion of the manna, the bread from heaven, which sustained the Israelites in the desert; and (3) the staff of Aaron, the high priest. The Ark was constructed from acacia wood—which, according to legend, would never corrupt or decompose—and it was covered with gold, inside and out. Once constructed, God’s presence dwelt with the Ark and was contained by it. Lastly, only certain people could carry the Ark, and no one could touch it, lest they die. If you’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’d be especially familiar with this last fact: The Ark was holy, and instant death awaited any sinner who dared to touch it, even on accident.
Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant. And while she did not literally contain the same things which the old Ark did, in bearing Jesus in her womb for nine months, she contained the fulfillment of those things. Because Jesus is the Word of God, the Bread from Heaven, and the High Priest of our Faith, He is the perfect fulfillment of the tablets, the manna, and the staff. Mary is also sinless, and so can be thought of as covered in gold, inside and out. Indeed, she is the “queen arrayed in gold” spoken of in our responsorial psalm. Finally, because Mary was sinless, and so did not incur the penalty of sin, which is the corruption of the grave, Mary’s body can be compared to the acacia wood of the Ark, which was believed to not undergo corruption or decomposition.
There is, however, one important difference between Mary and the old Ark of the Covenant: Namely, we do not need to be afraid to approach her and to reach out to for her help. Although she is holy, although she is full of grace, we will not die if we touch her, and she wants nothing more to embrace us and lead us to her Son. Mary is the queen of unspeakable beauty, but she is also the mother of unspeakable mercy. She is the refuge of sinners and comforter of the afflicted. In times of trouble she comes to us, and in our hour of darkness she is standing right in front of us.
On the vestment I am wearing today there is an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, an icon which can also be seen in the Blessed Sacrament chapel behind us. One of my favorite aspects of this icon is that Jesus appears to be leaping into His mother’s arms. The two angels in the corners of the icon are holding the instruments of Jesus’ passion, and in a moment of anxiety and fear Jesus turns to His mother for help. In fact, His leap is so vigorous, that if you look closely, you’ll notice that Jesus’ left sandal has fallen off because of how quickly He jumped into her arms. In times of trouble, Jesus turned to His mother, and so should we. She has nothing but motherly care and affection for us, care and affection surpassing the best of any earthly mother.
And so, on this Solemnity of the Assumption, let us turn to Mary. Even if we have no one else we can talk to—even we have lost our spouse, our best friend, or our earthly mother—Mary can be there for us, if we but take her outstretched hand. And that is what the rosary is: the outstretched hand of Mary, ready to pull us up out of whatever darkness we have fallen into, ready to walk with us through any storm we might face. If it’s been a long time since you prayed the rosary, give it another shot—even if it’s just a decade. Let us take Mary’s hand and let her lead us to her Son. Amen.