Living the Word: Mary is a loving mother in whose arms all are safe
By Father Timothy Hepner
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary / Aug. 15
Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a,10ab; Psalm 45:10,11,12,16; 1 Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56
I will not be preaching to my parish this year on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and ordinarily I would see that as a missed opportunity. Instead, I will be involved in Rachel’s Vineyard, a post-abortion healing ministry. This is very providential, and I will tell you why in a bit.
In the first reading for the Vigil of the Assumption, we hear about an ark. There are four arks in Scripture. The first is Noah’s Ark. Adam and Eve chose death over life with God and their offspring persevered in the choice. But Noah found “grace in the eyes of the Lord,” and he both built the Ark and was housed in it as a promise of new life for the earth. The second is the “ark” or basket (the Hebrew uses the same word) into which Moses’ mother placed him to save him from death.
The third is the Ark of the Covenant, containing evidence of God’s superabundant power and the new life he promised his people: the tablets of the Ten Commandments, which led to a “long life” with God (Exodus 20:12); the pot of manna, bread which provided life for the Israelites in the otherwise deadly desert; and Aaron’s rod which “budded” and miraculously brought forth new life as a sign of God’s covenant. This ark became a quasi-sacramental sign of God’s presence with the Israelites and his promise of victory and life. In the first reading, David arranges an extravagant ceremony to bring the ark back into the promised land, where it eventually took its place in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple.
Through her role as Mother of God, Mary gained a special share in Jesus’ resurrection, so she was taken, body and soul, into this eternal life of grace.
The fourth ark appears in God’s temple in heaven as described by John in Revelation 11:19. Immediately after this, in the exact same place, John sees “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars [who] was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth” (Revelation 12:1-2). Church Fathers have seen this woman as both the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church.
THE TRUEST “ARK”
Mary is the truest “ark,” who carries the promise of a superabundant life of grace that will not end. Like Noah, the Son of God both fashioned and was carried by this new ark. Mary’s assumption into heaven was the ultimate realization of her “yes” to holding Life Himself within her. Through her role as Mother of God, Mary gained a special share in Jesus’ resurrection, so she was taken, body and soul, into this eternal life of grace.
What about us, “poor banished children of Eve,” who are corrupted by sin and death? What about the men and women who chose to put to death the precious life that was entrusted to them? This is why I believe my participation in Rachel’s Vineyard is so providential. Mary is the Mother of Life, and she of all people is aware of the effects of death after having stood at the foot of the cross. She never turned away from the horror of sin, and she chose to embrace all of the Father’s children with a motherly mercy. Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote that at the cross, “Mary is undergoing the pains of childbirth, not only for her second-born, who is John but also for the millions who will be born to her in Christian ages as ‘Children of Mary.’”
Those who have participated in an abortion, or who have contributed to the culture of death in any way, find a brilliant promise of mercy in this New Ark. It is not easy to look up and out of one’s shame, but those who have the courage to do this have found immense healing through Jesus’ mercy in the Church and her sacraments. They see that Mary is not ashamed of them, but she is their loving mother, and they are safe in her arms. They find life.
Father Timothy Hepner is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Monmouth, and St. Patrick Parish, Raritan. He also serves as chaplain for the St. Augustine Newman Club at Monmouth College.