I stood in line for several hours at the Immigration office in Intramuros, Philippines, waiting to renew my missionary visa. I was very optimistic that I would get it this time around after many failed attempts. I rushed to the window with excitement when my turn came and handed in my documents. The officer looked at the folder and handed it back to me saying, “You have one more document lacking.” She was speaking of a new visa requirement that I knew nothing about.
I left the office that day with that familiar question in my mind, “How much longer, O Lord? How much more can I take in the missions?” At such moments, the countless blessings of being loved by God and invited by Jesus Christ to be a missionary to His beloved children all fade to the background. I momentarily forget the numerous wonderful experiences of God’s grace in my ministry and in the lives of those whom I serve. I begin to wonder if I have what it takes to give to the very end. It becomes hard to give of self to God and to others at such moments. If only the Assumption of Mother Mary made a greater impact on my life.
Pope Pius XII had in 1950 defined the Assumption of Mary as a teaching revealed by God in these words: “I solemnly declare… that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This declaration gives us a complete picture of Mary’s Assumption and what it means for us as Christians.
“The immaculate Mother of God”
We cannot understand the Assumption of Mary in our lives without a sense of the unique prior gift of the Immaculate Conception. Mary was conceived without original sin by the foreseen merits of Christ her Son. It was a unique gift, something utterly unmerited on her part. Mary believed this gift of her utter sinlessness from the moment that the Angel Gabriel said to her, “Hail, full of grace.” She lived in perpetual gratitude to God for this unique gift, “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” Her deep faith and gratitude for this gift shaped her life completely.
Mary was not passive in the face of God’s gift to her. She responded with all her being to this unique gift of God to her by a complete gift of herself to God – heart, mind, body and soul. By her strong faith, she belonged to God as perfectly as a human being could ever belong to God. She professed this perfect and unconditional self offering to God in these words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your words.” Mary could give herself completely to God and His saving mission only because God had given Himself to her first.
“Having completed the course of her earthly life…”
Mary’s gift of herself to God was not only complete; it was forever. She never revoked an iota of her self offering in the slightest way by her words, thoughts or actions. She never took anything back from her gift of self. Her gift of self was intact in good times and in bad times, even when she had to stand at the foot of the cross on Calvary and silently renew her gift of self in painful moments, “Standing by the cross was His mother.” Even her departure from this life was an act of self offering to God.
“…was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
God rewarded Mary’s complete and unconditional gift of self to God by assuming her body and soul into heaven. She who gave herself to God completely and forever as no human being could ever do was rewarded by experiencing heavenly glory immediately in her body and soul. Total and instant glorification was God’s reward for her total and immutable gift of self.
The Assumption is a feast of our Mother Mary that reminds us what our Christian vocation is all about: offering ourselves to God completely and forever in response to the gift that God has made to us in baptism and in our priestly and religious consecrations. We offer ourselves completely to God and let Him use us in the way that He seems best. In baptism, we too have been cleansed of our sins, God has united us to Himself in Jesus Christ and given us a gift of Himself in His Spirit that dwells in us. We belong to God and we too are to give ourselves to Him completely and forever in the state of life that He has called us to if we are going to experience glory like our Mother Mary.
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth in today’s Gospel shows us how powerful God can act in our lives when we give ourselves to Him completely and irrevocably like Mary did. At her words of greeting, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist was sanctified in her womb and Elizabeth recognized the presence of God in Mary’s womb, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary spoke words of prophecy that have come to be a reality now and for thousands of years to come, “From now all, all generations will call me blessed.” Mary’s words are so powerful and her prophecy so accurate because she belonged to God in a uniquely radical way that we cannot even imagine. By her intense offering of herself to God, God acted in and through her words and actions and He will continue to act in Mary and through her till the very end of time. Of that fact we can be sure.
St. Paul teaches the Christians in Corinth that there will be an order in which we will be brought to life in Christ and this order depends on how completely we belong to God, “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life. But each in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at His coming, those who belong to Christ.” In His humanity, Jesus Christ is the perfectly consecrated one, the one who belongs to God per excellence and who makes it possible for every one of us to belong to God too, including Mary. Isn’t the Immaculate Conception a gift to Mary by the merits of Christ? Mary likewise precedes us all in a unique sharing in the glory of her son by her assumption into heaven, body and soul.
Christ, the firstfruits, chose to come to us through the complete gift that Mary made of herself to God. Likewise, we, the harvest that follow the firstfruits, should participate in Mary’s unconquerable faith in God’s gift to her and make a complete gift of ourselves to God in all the moments of our vocations just like she did.
Maybe we are thinking today, “Lord, how much longer? How can I go on giving of myself in my vocation?” Maybe we are holding back in giving ourselves to God in certain areas of our lives. Maybe we have made an offering to God in the past and have slowly began to take it back little by little, knowingly or unknowingly. Maybe we have lost the sense of the gift of our baptism and mission from Christ because of the hardships and disappointments of life. Maybe all our sufferings and trials of this life has dimmed the vision of heavenly glory for us.
This Solemnity of the Assumption is one of hope and comfort to us, an invitation to renew our vocations through and with Mary. Let Mother Mary deepen our faith in God’s blessing to us and keep these blessings ever before our eyes; let her help us to give ourselves completely to God until our last breath and allow Him use us as He pleases in this life. This is how we shall possess what Jesus desires for each of us – a complete participation in His own eternal glory, body and soul.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!
Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations’ Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.