Homily for Assumption of the BVM

Readings: Rev. 11.19-12.10, Ps. 45, 1 Cor. 15.20-27, Lk. 1.39-56

In 1950, Pope Pius XII, solemnly declared: "the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." Theologians regard this statement as an infallible ex cathedra teaching. The pope left open the question of whether or not Mary had died before her Assumption, although the more common teaching of the early Fathers is that the sinless Mary died prior to her Assumption.

One thing that I love about the Blessed Virgin Mary is her humanness: she experienced fears, doubts and sufferings. When the angel Gabriel asked Mary to serve as the Mother of God, she obviously appeared frightened because the angelís first words were: "Mary, do not be afraid." When asked to serve as the Mother of God, she questioned, "How can this be since I have had no relations with a man?" Mary suffered also. The Seven Sorrows of Mary include Simeonís Prophecy, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of Jesus in the Temple, Jesusí Carrying of the Cross, the Crucifixion, Mary at the foot of the Cross, and Maryís receiving the body of her son. In todayís gospel, in order to be with her cousin, Mary traveled south over rocky/stony ground either by donkey or walking 60 miles from Nazareth to Ein Kerem, just west of Jerusalem.

I canít identify with Maryís sinlessness. I can identify with Maryís humanness: her fears, questions and experiences of suffering. Despite these difficulties, Mary still professed: "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your Word." And I have no doubt that Mary at the foot of the cross kept repeating Jesusí words, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Last Sunday, we suffered a terrible accident in the front of St. Joseph Church. On Wednesday, in the rectory we experienced an extraordinary expression of forgiveness. After my having had conversations with the driver of the SUV and with the family members of the deceased, I realized that they needed each other. The driver wanted to say through a continuous flow of tears, "I am sorry, so sorry." And various family members wanted to say to the driver, "There are no hard feelings. This was a complete accident. My brother went to daily Mass. If anybody was ready to meet God, he and his wife were most ready." The son said to me, "Father, my father is so happy in heaven. My father was a persistent and even pestering defender of the Catholic faith. Heís smiling in heaven telling people how he died: right after Mass, right in front of the Church, with hundreds of people praying for him. If my father could have written the script for his death, this is it, except he would have hoped that the pope too would have been present." The deceased brotherís said to me: "My brother is so happy. Going to heaven was the purpose of his life." A daughter of the deceased said: "My father and mother could not have lived without each other; it is beautiful that they went to heaven together."

By mutual agreement, the driver and a half dozen family members agreed to meet in the rectory. This was the scene. Gayle Camilleri who had been driving the SUV was sitting in the dining room with half a dozen members of the parish staff and some parishioners. We had been talking lightly. Members of the family of John and Pat Cillo entered the dining room. The first person was Johnís younger brother. He walked directly to Gayle, hugged her, kissed her, and said, "Our family has no hard feelings. What happened was an accident. My brother and his wife are in heaven, a better place than where we are. We forgive you. We love you. And we want you to continue to be loving and not lonely, to be happy not depressed, to continue in your ministry as parish greeter and not to separate yourself from this parish that my brother and his wife loved." Person by person, for the next hour, each family member came forward, hugged Gayle, reassured her, forgave her for the accident, and held her hand throughout the conversations.

This face-to-face meeting took extraordinary courage on everyoneís part: to be present physically, to forgive, to hug and kiss which expression speaks louder than any words. What drives this kind of heroic behavior? Ö I observe that forgiveness is an expression of Christian faith in action. Our faith that God loves us, that Jesus has redeemed us; our hope in Jesusí resurrection and our invitation to enjoy eternal life in heaven; our love that calls us to imitate Jesus in opening our arms to welcome people, to forgive people, to sacrifice for the good of other people instructs and inspires us to do for others what Jesus has done for each of us.

Early on in this homily, I said that I can identify more easily with Maryís humanness than the grace of her sinlessness. This past Wednesday, I witnessed extraordinary grace. I hope and pray that when each of us, when our turns come, might respond with the exemplary Christ-like faith, hope and love as did the Blessed Virgin Mary, Gayle Camilleri and the members of the family of John and Pat Cillo. May we call upon the best that is within each of us, and try our best to live and love as did Jesus and Mary.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley