HOMILY for The Assumption of the MBVM
The Olympics have been such a vibrant celebration of the human person. We marvel at what the human body is capable of, as each Olympiad, we see men and women push themselves to strive after the Olympic motto that was first coined by a French Dominican: “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. Today, we continue to celebrate the human body, and to marvel at what we are capable of with God’s grace. As Mary says: “He who is mighty has done great things”, taking her up to the heights, beyond what is humanly possible.
Today’s feast, then, is a celebration of the human body. The body is vital to who we are as individual human beings because we are a union of body and soul. It is with my body that I communicate, experience the world, move, and live. It is with and in my body that I am somebody, a unique and individual human person, with my gifts, talents, and skills. So, for example, we talk about what Chris Hoy can do, not what Chris Hoy’s body can do!
But at the same time, there’s considerable ambivalence about society’s obsession with the body beautiful, healthy, and fit. Because although it seems like we celebrate the human body, we often don’t take it seriously enough. As fr Timothy Radcliffe OP says: “”the trivialization of sex suggests that ultimately we don’t take our bodies seriously”. When this happens, in fact, the human person is not being taken seriously, not being respected, and is treated as meat; the body becomes a tool or commodity for selfish pleasure. But what we do with and to our bodies matters. It says something about who I am. Thus, Our Lady’s virginity and her immaculate womb which had borne the Son of God speaks of who she is: Her purity of heart, her innocence of life, her total dedication to God, and her intimacy with his Word.
God who loves us into being certainly takes the human body seriously, and because of who Mary is, he keeps her body from corruption. God values the human body because of the dignity and wonder that is inherent in each human person he has created. And because we are bodily creatures, God chooses to take on a human body so that he can communicate his grace to us, unite himself to us, and so, redeem our entire humanity, body and soul. God continues to do this through the materiality of sacraments. Christ is encountered in the sacraments and the Liturgy, through physical signs and symbols for our sake, because we are bodily creatures. It could not be otherwise, which is why we should beware of Liturgy that is stripped of beauty, fragrance, and bodily postures, for all these appeal to our senses, engaging the whole human person, mind and body, in Christ’s work of salvation.
So, we are saved in and through our bodies. As Tertullian said: Caro cardo salutis: “the flesh is the hinge of salvation”. In Christ, God has united himself to Mankind in the human body. In Our Lady’s womb, this was a unique union that was both physical, as only a mother shares with her baby, and spiritual, through grace. Although this was unique, Mary, as Mother of all redeemed humanity, anticipates what is ours through baptism. For in a similar way, God is united to us in our bodies through the Eucharist and through grace, as a promise of what will be fulfilled when our earthly life is ended.
The promise given to each of us in baptism is that death will not be the end of you and me. Death is an un-natural separation of our bodies and souls, which is why death is such an anguish and why we fear it. It’s not proper to our human nature, to who I am, to be divided in body and soul. In death, I am no longer me because of what has happened to my body. But death is not the end. God promises to restore our bodies, and make us whole again. He raises my body so that, united to my immortal soul, I can become me again. And this resurrected ‘me’ is united to God in love, sees him face-to-face, so that, in Christ, I am made divine!
This, undoubtedly, is higher and stronger than is humanly possible, than we dare to imagine. As we marvelled so much at Olympic feats, today we marvel and rejoice even more in what grace and the power of God accomplishes. As Our Lady said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”. We look to Mary our Mother with joyful hope because where she has gone first, we hope to follow; what God has done for her as the Mother of redeemed humanity, we believe he will do for us whom he has redeemed with his Son’s precious blood.
May the Virgin Mary pray for us, that we too may be made worthy of Christ’s promises.
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