This weekend the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary replaces the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Solemnity was formally proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1950. In his proclamation, he wrote, “The immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven.” As reasons for the proclamation, the pope alluded to the bloody world wars of that century, the growth of materialism, the corruption of morals and the desecration of the human body. By extolling the body of Mary, he meant to recall the inherent dignity of all human bodies and their eternal destiny.
Perhaps the idiom, “there is nothing new under the sun”, which finds its possible origins in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, is fitting today. Many of the same issues Pope Pius XII saw in the world are still taking place --- wars, materialism, corruption of morals, the desecration of the human body. Today we could add the pandemic and the growing intensity of natural disasters.
What keeps us from learning the lessons of history? It seems our selfishness and pride continually leads us away from Gospel values. One of the symptoms of our selfishness and pride, is the insistence on personal freedom regardless of its impact on others. God gave us free will with the hopes we would choose love of neighbor over our own personal good.
Jesus came to model selfless love. To accept God’s will as our own, requires making sacrifices for the benefit of others. Mary, as the first disciple, imitated her son’s lead. As one writer has noted, “Through the centuries, Mary‘s role as both mother and mentor has grown. Believers revere her and are drawn to emulate her willingness to believe God and to live in accordance with her faith.
Mary also serves the church as mensch. Although mensch may seem an unlikely word for describing her, Mary is clearly represented as such in the Christian scriptures. Mensch, a Yiddish word, describes a person with the admirable characteristics of fortitude and firmness of purpose. A mensch is honest, upright, responsible and decent. In her capacity as mensch, Mary represents the bridge between the testaments in that she embodies the spirit of the Jewish anawim (the remnant, or God’s least ones), whose incredible strength and survival lay in their trust in and utter dependence on God. Although women in his day were perceived as weak and powerless, Luke nevertheless placed on Mary’s lips the song that celebrated the revolutionary spirit and the reversal of values and fortunes that characterize the kingdom of God. As mensch of the kingdom, it is Mary’s privilege to sing its anthem of justice and vindication for God’s promises. Her song, as presented by the Lucan evangelist in today’s Gospel, is comprised of a mosaic of texts from the Hebrew scriptures, all of which are shown as coming to fulfillment in Jesus.
How can you serve the church as a mensch this week? It is through our honesty, fortitude, and firmness of the covenant with God, that the Kingdom of God becomes more visible in our world.