Pope's Homily for Feast of Assumption

«The Things of God Merit Haste»

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 16, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Monday when he celebrated Mass for the feast of the Assumption in the parish of St. Thomas of Villanova in Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are gathered once again to celebrate one of the oldest and most loved feasts dedicated to Mary Most Holy: the feast of her Assumption to the glory of heaven in soul and body, namely, in her whole human being, in the integrity of her person. Thus we are given the grace to renew our love for Mary, to admire and praise her for the «great things» that the Almighty did for her and wrought in her.

On contemplating the Virgin Mary we are given another grace: that of also being able to see our lives in depth. Yes, because also our daily existence, with its problems and its hopes, receives light from the Mother of God, from her spiritual journey, from her destiny of glory: a journey and an end that can and must become, in some way, our own journey and our own end. We allow ourselves to be guided by passages of sacred Scripture that the liturgy proposes to us today. I would like to pause, in particular, on the image that we see in the first reading, treated by Revelation, which Luke’s Gospel echoes, namely, that of the ark.

In the first reading, we heard: «then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of the covenant was seen within the temple» (Revelation 11:19). What is the significance of the ark? What does it appear to be? For the Old Testament, it is the symbol of the presence of God in the midst of his people. But now the symbol has given way to reality. Thus the New Testament tells us that the true ark of the covenant is a living and concrete person: it is the Virgin Mary. God does not dwell in a piece of furniture, God dwells in a person, in a heart: Mary, she who bore in her womb the Eternal Son of God made man, Jesus Our Lord and Savior. In the ark — as we know — the two tablets of the law of Moses were kept, which manifested the will of God to maintain the covenant with his people, indicating to them the conditions to be faithful to God’s pact, to conform themselves to the will of God and thus also to our most profound truth. Mary is the ark of the covenant, because she received Jesus in herself; she received the living Word in her self, the whole content of the will of God, of the truth of God; she received in herself him who is the new and eternal covenant, culminating with the offering of his body and his blood: body and blood received from Mary. Christian piety is right, therefore, in the litanies in honor of Our Lady, to turn to her and to invoke her as Foederis Arca, that is «ark of the covenant,» ark of the presence of God, ark of the covenant of love that God willed to fix definitively with the whole of humanity in Christ.

The passage of Revelation indicates another important aspect of the reality of Mary. She, living ark of the covenant, has a destiny of extraordinary glory, because she is so closely united to the Son whom she received in faith and generated in the flesh, to share fully the glory of heaven. This is what the words we heard suggest to us: «And a great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child … she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations» (12:1-2; 5). The greatness of Mary, Mother of God, full of grace, fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, now lives in God’s heaven with her whole self, soul and body. Referring to this mystery in a famous homily, St. John Damascene states: «Today the holy and unique Virgin is led to the heavenly temple … Today the sacred ark animated by the living God, [the ark] that bore in the womb the Architect himself, rests in the Lord’s temple, not built by the hand of man» (Homily on the Dormition, 2, PG 96, 723). And he continues: «It was necessary that she who had housed in her womb the divine Logos, was transformed into the tabernacle of her Son. … It was necessary that the Bride that the Father chose, dwell in the nuptial room of heaven» (Ibid., 14, PG 96. 742).

Today the Church sings the immense love of God for this, his creature: He chose her as true «ark of the covenant,» as she who continues to generate and to give Christ the Savior to humanity, as she who in heaven shares the fullness of glory and enjoys the very happiness of God and, at the same time, invites us also to become, in our modest way, an «ark» in which the Word of God is present, which is transformed and vivified by his presence, a place of God’s presence, so that men may be able to see in their neighbor the closeness of God and thus live in communion with God and know the reality of heaven.

Luke’s Gospel that we just heard (cf. Luke 1:39-56) shows us this living ark, which is Mary, in movement: Having left her Nazareth home, Mary journeys to the mountains to reach in haste a city of Judah and to go to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. I think it is important to stress the expression «in haste»: The things of God merit haste. Indeed the only things of the world that merit haste are in fact those of God, which have real urgency for our life. Then Mary entered this home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, but she did not go in alone. She entered bearing in her womb her Son, who is God himself made man. Certainly she and her help were awaited in that home, but the Evangelist leads us to understand that this awaiting refers to another, more profound. Zechariah, Elizabeth and the small John the Baptist are, in fact, the symbol of all the righteous of Israel, whose heart, rich in hope, awaits the coming of the Messiah Savior. And it is the Holy Spirit who opens Elizabeth’s eyes and makes her recognize in Mary the true ark of the covenant, the Mother of God, who comes to visit her. And thus the elderly cousin receives her exclaiming with «a loud cry»: «Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?» (Luke 1:42-43). And it is the Holy Spirit himself that before her who carries the God made man, opens the heart of John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth exclaims: «For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy» (verse 44). Here the Evangelist Luke uses the term «skirtan,» namely «leap,» the same term that we find in one of the ancient Greek translations of the Old Testament to describe the dance of King David before the holy ark that finally returned to the homeland (2 Samuel 6:16). John the Baptist dances in his mother’s womb before the ark of the covenant, like David and thus recognizes that Mary is the new ark of the covenant, before whom the heart exults with joy, the Mother of God present in the world, who does not keep to herself this divine presence, but offers it sharing the grace of God. And thus — as the prayer states — Mary is really «cause of our joy,» the «ark» in which the Savior is really present among us.

Dear brothers! We are speaking of Mary, but in a certain sense, we are speaking also of ourselves, of each one of us: We are also recipients of that immense love that God has reserved — certainly, in an absolutely unique and unrepeatable way — for Mary. In this solemnity of the Assumption we look at Mary: She opens us to hope, to a future full of joy and teaches us the way to reach it: to receive her Son in faith; never to lose our friendship with him, but to allow ourselves to be illumined and guided by his word; to follow him every day, even in the moments in which we feel that our crosses are heavy. Mary, the ark of the covenant that is in the sanctuary of heaven, points out to us with luminous clarity that we are on the way to our true Home, to communion of joy and peace with God. Amen!

[Translation by ZENIT]
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