This year, August 15th falls on a Sunday. Every year the Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary on August 15th, but rarely does that day fall on a Sunday. The feast will focus our attention upon that unique gift that God gave to Mary at the end of her earthly life.
Unfortunately, some Christians see the many gifts that God gave to Mary as stumbling blocks. They argue (falsely) that loving Mary means that we don’t love Jesus enough. Yet every gift that God gave to Mary—from her Immaculate Conception to her Assumption to her Coronation in Heaven—helps us love God better. Every gift that God gave to Mary helps us appreciate how much God loves mankind, and how much good He has in store for us, if we’ll only open our lives to His grace.
Some Christians argue (falsely) that Catholics worship Mary as some sort of goddess. Catholics in fact honor Mary not for being “super-human”, but for being “purely” human: for being human in the manner that God meant, “in the beginning”, for man to live. Catholics in fact honor Mary for allowing God into her life perfectly, and allowing God to do great things through her.
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That’s a backdrop to the mystery that today’s Scriptures set before us: the mystery of death. In today’s First Reading, from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, the author states: “God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living.”
Of course, if God did not make death, then we have to wonder who did? The answer is: man made death; or at least, man made death into what we know it as.
“In the beginning”, when God created man—male and female He created them—He did not design man to experience death as we know it. Certainly, God designed man for Heaven, never intending man to live forever upon the earth. But God did not design man to end his earthly days by means of what we know as death.
“In the beginning”, God created man so that an individual human person, upon reaching his or her final day on earth, would rise to Heaven both in body and soul. The end of earthly life would not—as God originally designed man—result in the division of a man’s body from his soul. The human body and soul are meant always to be united to each other: both on earth and in Heaven.
But when Adam and Eve brought sin into human life, death as we know it resulted. Human sin is the reason that the body and soul are separated from each other at the moment of death. They remain separated, of course, until the end of time, when “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible” [1 Corinthians 15:52]. Those in Heaven finally will see their bodies joined again to their souls.
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However, the division of body and soul is not the only type of division caused by sin. An even deeper division takes place within the human person. Every one of us experiences division inside oneself, and on many different levels. For example, even regarding something as simple as a diet, human persons are torn in two. We “know” that we need to eat a more healthful diet, but we “want” to eat what’s satisfying. That’s why the diet industry earns billions of dollars every year: because human beings are divided inside, and their diets don’t address that fault line within the human person.
The same is true when we face decisions about how to spend free time, or whether to sleep in on a weekend morning or tackle a needed chore. Inside us, a tug-of-war goes on, and more often then not, the lower side wins.
St. Paul in his New Testament letters speaks to division in his own life. But he doesn’t speak to the more worldly decisions that we all face. He speaks about division in the very heart of man’s soul, and about sin as the cause of this division. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul tackles this conflict head on:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. …. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. …. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:15,17-25].
There is only one way to combat division: either division within each human person, or the division in human society in the year 2021. That way is Jesus Christ. This truth was proclaimed in the Alleluia Verse before today’s Gospel Reading: “Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death / and brought life to light through the Gospel” [see 2 Timothy 1:10]. Jesus has brought “life to light”. What is this life? What is the meaning of life? Jesus answered those questions during His three years of public ministry on earth, when He declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me” [John 14:6]. We need to turn to Him: in all things. We need to turn to Him: through prayer and the sacraments that He gave His Church. We need to turn to Him because without Him, there is only sin and division.