Feast of the Assumption: Luke 1:39-56
Do you find this question difficult to answer? Do you wonder if anything you have done can be called “great”? Would you feel embarrassed to even try to answer such a question? After all, most of us will never lead an army to victory in a historically significant battle, or write a book that will change the way everyone thinks, or find a cure for some previously incurable disease. One can think of similar achievements that most people would call great. However, would any of these, as impressive as they may be, be our greatest achievement even if we actually did one of these?
In July of 1969, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin was one of the most famous people in the world. He had already been a test pilot and an astronaut in a previous space mission. But, on July 20, 1969, he and Neil Armstrong became the first human beings to land on the moon and to walk on the moon. Surely, a great achievement, not only for them, but for the many people who worked on this project and helped bring it to fruition.
But, after he had returned to Earth and all the hubbub died down, “Buzz” Aldrin began to struggle with depression. How does someone “top” walking on the moon? He was adrift for years before he began to find his footing in life once again. As great as such famous achievements may be, one cannot base one’s whole life on them. Something even greater is needed.
Or, bring the example closer to home. Imagine someone who was a sports hero in high school – one of the “in” crowd, to be sure. Fast forward to that person’s twentieth high school reunion. This person is no longer the sports hero. Some people will remember, but few will care like they once did. How does our hero live now? Athletic glory is fine, but it can’t carry a person through life. Something even greater is needed.
What might this kind of greatness be?
Let us look at the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we honor on this feast day. She is hailed as the model Christian and the pre-eminent believer, as well as in many other ways. However, her greatness is of an entirely different order than the things we usually name “great”. She was not a victorious general. She never wrote a book. She never ruled any nation during her life on earth. She set no sports records. She was not a financial wizard.
Even if we limit ourselves to the things we usually count as “great” in the lives of saints, Mary didn’t do many of them. She never founded a religious order. She was never a Pope or bishop. She was not a martyr for the faith. And yet, no merely human being in the history of Christianity is honored or acclaimed as she has been. What was her achievement, then?
The answer is really quite simple. Mary gave herself completely to the will of God for her. When the Lord called her, she said yes. Totally. Completely. Without reservation. At the Annunciation, she had a moment of fear. But by the end of that story, she was ready to commit herself completely to the Lord’s will for her life. She was offered a totally unique, one-of-a-kind mission: to be the mother of the Messiah. She accepted it in faith, perhaps not knowing fully what it would entail. But she declared that she was the servant of the Lord, and that she was ready to let all things be done to her according to the Lord’s word. It is precisely this commitment in faith to the Lord’s call for her life that is her truly great achievement. Everything else in her life was gift – her very life, her immaculate conception, her calling to be the Mother of God. Her response was a yes of faith.
In this way, as in many others, Mary shows us where true greatness lies. So many things that we would like to credit to ourselves are simply gifts to us: our personalities, our health, our talents, and even our families. Many of the things we point to as great achievements were not done by one person alone, but usually with the help of many unknown people. Most of our own achievements are similar. But the greatest of these? Our own yes to the Lord, given when we do not know (and cannot know) for certain what the outcome may be. Our yes, given in faith, with absolute conviction that what the Lord wants for us is not only best for us, but is somehow also best for everyone.
It is mainly because of Mary’s “yes” that we honor her as the first among believers. She is given to us as the preeminent model of a believer. This is one of the reasons why the Church also professes faith in what we now celebrate – the Assumption of Mary. What does this mean? Simply put, it means this: just as Mary is a preeminent model for all Christians by her life, so is she in her death and beyond. What our faith promises to all of us who believe – resurrection from the dead and eternal life – has already been given in its fullness to Mary. Just as Easter was the Father’s “Yes” to Jesus as his Son, so the Assumption is the Lord’s “Yes” to Mary as the preeminent believer, both in life and beyond this life. What the Lord gave to Mary in her Assumption is the final fruit of her lifelong “yes” to his will. In the same way, our own resurrection from the dead will be the final fruit of our own “yes” to the Lord’s will, and the Lord’s “yes”, given in return, to us.
What is the Lord calling you to, now? What is the Lord calling me to, now? Once we know that the call truly comes from the Lord, may we say “yes” every day: “yes”, even as that call leads us in unexpected ways; “yes”, even as we ponder, like Mary, what it all could mean; “yes”, even when others simply can’t see it and don’t get it. Our “Yes” to God, given in faith, hope and love, and renewed every day, come what may. This is the greatest achievement possible for us humans. May our celebration of the Assumption of Mary not only honor her own faith and commitment to the Lord, but may it also be a time for each one of us to renew our own “yes”, with Mary as our guide and also with Mary’s prayers for each one of us. With that kind of help and support, we can’t go wrong!