The Sunday Project
A Call To Praise, A Call To Mourn
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary |
God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.
A great sign appeared in the sky, 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 and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed One.”
Brothers and sisters: Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for “he subjected everything under his feet.”
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”
Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
CW: Discussion of clergy abuse crisis
This feast has lived in my body for three years. Before that, it was just one of many Marian feasts, one about which I often forgot amidst the beginning of the academic year. In August 2018, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was released, revealing horrific stories of abuse by clergy in several dioceses in Pennsylvania. Unsurprisingly, the Catholic world blew up with reactions – shock, denial, anger, and blame swirled like a tornado and the debris wounded the innocent and guilty alike.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, there are not words to describe the way these stories hit me. For several days, I barely ate or slept. I wept and sometimes screamed. I could not pray. I could not look at a religious object without a new wave of panic overtaking me. To make matters worse, many influential Catholics scapegoated the LGBTQ+ community as the cause of this perversity — “the lavender mafia” we were called. Abuse was called “homosexuality,” and calls to purify the Church of our influence were heard loud and clear.
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary fell soon after, and many admitted that celebrating a feast about the ultimate perfection of the Church at a time like this felt like a cruel joke. Yet, in today’s readings we hear Mary sing a song of salvation—a song of the lowly, oppressed, and forgotten who finally see power re-structured for their wellbeing.
Mary’s song is one in a long line of such songs. Her namesake, Miriam, sings to the Lord after the Hebrews escape from Egypt:
“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.”
And now we hear Mary proclaim:
“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
I think it is paramount that we resist any urge to interpret these passages in a way that overlooks or minimizes trauma. These passages can and must call us to the opposite. Just as the Assumption of Our Lady, the advocate of the people and the defender of the oppressed, promises us wholeness that is to come so do these passages. They do not falsely tell us that everything is okay nor do they encourage us to put demands on the suffering. They speak to us of our vocation to be the body of the Christ, to bring about justice and mercy, to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phl 2:12).
Just as Mary sings her song of praise while under Roman occupation, so we too can learn to sing songs of praise, not because we are ignoring the oppressed, but because we have mourned with them and because we know that G-d is their advocate.
The Church’s crimes are innumerable. From sexual abuse to colonization to racism to cis-hetero-patriarchy. From the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report to Indigenous Boarding Schools to the LGBTQ+ youth and adults who suffer from depression and suicidal ideation. These songs of praise speak to us of a different Lord. The faith of these songs lies in their belief that a god who abuses the vulnerable and decimates communities is not the true one. The Holy One is El Roi (the One who Sees) and El Shaddai (the One who Supplies). The Holy One casts down the mighty and lifts up the lowly, feeds the hungry and turns away the rich. The Holy One casts chariots into the sea. The Holy One calls us, in a world of lies and injustice, to have faith in the True One and to act as Their hands and feet.