Luke 1:39-56, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
When you and I were children, oh, 500 years ago, our elders taught us that Mary was “taken up to heaven, body and soul.” Why was that special? Well, “when ordinary people like us die,” our elders said, “our souls go to heaven, leaving our bodies behind. But Mary was special. Both her body and soul went up to heaven.” Why was she different? Because she was “conceived without original sin.”
For many centuries, sisters and brothers, Christians believed that the death came into the world because of original sin. God really intended people to be eternal when he created us. But thanks to “Adam and Eve” who first sinned, they passed their sin onto us. So, we all die. Our elders didn’t invent that. They got that from St Paul who said, “the wages of sin is death.” Paul interpreted Genesis literally. So, he believed that our “first parents” passed their sin to their children, their children’s children, et cetera. This sin brought death into the world. But you don’t find the phrase “original sin” in the Bible. That one was St Augustine’s coinage. Like Paul, however, Augustine interpreted Genesis literally: that there was an Adam and there was an Eve, and a talking snake, and disobedience, etc. According to Augustine, Adam and Eve passed original sin to the rest of humanity by procreation. Since all are born “guilty” of original sin, all die. Well, except Mary, conceived without original sin. No original sin, no death. So, on her last day on earth, Mary went up to heaven, body and soul. Did she die? Our Church dogma does not officially used that word on Mary. Instead, the dogma says God assumed Mary into heaven, body and soul.
Problem #1: in today’s theology, we no longer believe that original sin is passed on genetically from parent to child which we held for 2,000 years, can you imagine? We also no longer interpret Genesis literally. Adam, Eve, and the talking snake were not historical characters but rather ancient symbols of humanity and the ever-present reality of temptation. Thankfully, we say today that original sin is not anyone’s “fault,” least of all a baby’s; like stealing is a fault, or lying or adultery. Fault involves freedom, thinking, and willing—which babies neither have nor do. So, the Church now further describes original sin as the sinful condition, the “default mode” of the world into which every child is born. Sin in the world is so deep that it affects us all, even as infants. While it’s no fault of babies, it is so indentured in human life that babies will grow up to eventually become complicit to it, as we all are. With Mary, however, we take exception. Yes, she was born into a sinful world. But she never became complicit to it. She remained “uncorrupted” by sin.
There is a problem #2. If Jesus who is the Son of God, died, and if many of our elders said Mary “did not really die but was assumed into heaven, body and soul,” doesn’t that make Mary greater than the Son of God himself? Even John Paul II corrected that impression. I reckon that even Mary would refuse to entitle herself that honor!
I love the feast of the Assumption. Through this 70-year-old Feast, God is telling me today, “Arnel, I created you as both body and soul. I will save you that way, too.” We say that every Sunday: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” Mary’s Assumption shows us that, God willing, we will still have bodies in “life everlasting.” Well, I sure hope so! Because if ever I get to heaven, I will want to show people I love them, not just send telepathic messages. I’ll want to hold hands again, to hug my mom again, to kiss lolo and lola, and not just “pray my love” for them. Yes, I will want to laugh with friends again, tell stories, catch up with two close friends who died too soon. And I’d love to walk with people again, run, dance! And if the Kingdom of God is really a banquet as Jesus said it was, I will want to eat with friends again, all we can eat! No more popping amlodipines, losartans, atorvastatins. That’s the happy news Mary’s Assumption tells: that God will resurrect us not just as souls but as souls and bodies!
If that’s the case, then all this should also allay our fear of dying, shouldn’t it? If the Assumption reminds us of our resurrection, body and soul, we should be scared less of death, shouldn’t we? I could certainly use a little more fearlessness in the face of death, especially in this pandemic. Sometimes I get so scared of getting the virus and dying, I forget I’m a priest who’s healthy and alive still! Instead of being paralyzed by fear of death, I should be using my body and soul to go where people need me most. Courage in the face of death, especially in favor of people we love: now you’re familiar with this, sisters and brothers. This is not strange to you, especially to you who have been at death’s door. That people you love must go on living is more important than worrying about your own death—you know what that feels, don’t you? Even in your greatest pain, in your darkest hour, you still worry if your children have eaten or done their homework, if your mother has taken her medications, if yaya has been paid her salary, if your spouse is getting enough sleep. We were taught that we’re all stung by original sin. I’d rather believe we were all originally wired by God to fear death less because we love people more.
We can call this “original blessedness,” sisters and brothers, to me, truer and more precious than “original sin.” Like Mary, we were all created in original blessedness. We will be resurrected body and soul if God wills it. Never mind for now what awaits us beyond. Until then, though, this life matters because this is where people we love need us to be for them, body and soul, the self same way Mary served God, her Son, and people she loved—all her earthly life, body and soul. After all, they were her heaven. Amen.