It was a delight to preach once again for the Catholic Women Preach project. Find my reflections below on the Solemnity of the Assumption in 2021.
Today’s solemnity has something to teach us about Mary, about God, and about ourselves.
Let’s start with Mary. Because this isn’t the first time we’ve heard a song like Mary’s Magnificat, about God standing on the side of the oppressed and overthrowing tyrants. Alongside Miriam and Judith and Deborah, heroines of the Jewish tradition, today our Mary takes her place in an established lineage of rebel women who exercised their own power in order to accomplish the will of God.
Few of us can imagine the kind of oppression under which Mary and her community lived – Roman soldiers were everywhere, tasked with keeping peace by force. The threat of physical and psychological violence lurked on every corner. Military authorities watched her every move. But Mary knew they weren’t the only ones watching her. She could sense that God, Adonai, the Holy One, also saw her in her struggle. And God wasn’t having it. Mary knew that poverty and persecution are not God’s dream for humanity. From her profound Jewish faith and practice, she knew that God looks at her with favor and that God will take action, just as God did for Miriam, Judith, and Deborah. This forthcoming baby is part of God’s longtime promise, the covenant. Mary is the link. And this time, the covenant is living inside of Mary’s body.
There is something essential about Mary’s body that is the hinge to this whole story. And indeed today, on the Solemnity of the Assumption, we celebrate God wanting to preserve and stay in the presence of Mary’s body, even after her death. While she sings the Magnificat, Mary also affirms God’s concern for her bodily well-being, including a calm mind and a full stomach.
As we turn our attention to what this Solemnity says about God, let’s consider the first and second readings. In these texts, God speaks of a proper order of things, including a just distribution of power. In Revelation, once the mother and baby are safe, the loud voice proclaims, “Now have salvation and power come.” Bodily safety first. Then salvation. In Corinthians, Paul lays it out: first Christ rises from the dead, then us, at which time, the reign of God is not established until Christ has destroyed every earthly authority and power that is out of alignment with the will of the Holy One. In short, there is no place for disordered power in the reign of God.
Let’s pay close attention to how God re-orders in the Magnificat. God has mercy, shows strength, casts down, lifts up, fills, and helps. Those last few sound sort of nice and soothing: lifts up, fills, helps. But let’s not skim over the first. First, God needs to reset some things. Because they are out of order. God sees the humiliation of military occupation and what this has done to the Jewish people. God sees the disordered use of power to preserve the wealth of a few, while the many languish. Material poverty and occupation by foreign governments are not okay with this God. They need to be addressed, and addressing them will cost something of those with full bellies and comfortable positions.
So, God cleans house: scattering the proud, casting down the mighty, sending the rich away with nothing. Then, God lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry with delicious food, and helps Mary’s community.
And now to ourselves in our times… When we look around today, it is a time of dis-order, no? We see disorder in our treatment of God’s creation, disorder in the care for human persons, disorder in the use of wealth… I mean, a billionaire just spent millions of dollars to propel himself and a few buddies into space for about 10 minutes.
The pandemic too has exposed our disorder. Even in our own neighborhoods we witness a chasm between between homeowners and home renters, between jobs that allowed for the distance of at-home work and those that forced workers into risky situations, between those with access to robust health care services and those with access to none. The pandemic has also demonstrated how physically connected we are to one another, by the very air molecules we share. The plight of one community, city, country, is truly the plight of all of us when it comes to COVID.
Mary knew this too. In the Magnificat, she moves from me to we. At the beginning of the hymn, Mary sings of the great things God has done for her, personally. Then she transitions to the great things God is doing for her community – the servant, Israel. In Mary’s worldview, the entire community suffers together – and the entire community prospers together.
So, where are we invited to participate in God’s re-ordering today? Is there something God is calling you and me to abandon, to take on, to start or to stop – in the name of ordering all things toward just relationships? Let’s go forth today with our eyes fixed on the world through the lens of the Magnificat – prioritizing the well-being of the poor, in all ways: body and soul.