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Sunday, December 11, 2016
Text: Bishop of Elphin on Feast of Assumption of Mary
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¬†The Bishop of Elphin, the Most Rev Christopher Jones, gave the following homily yesterday at the Shrine of Knock in Ireland. He said: '"Mary's Assumption confirms in a compelling way the teaching of the Church on the dignity and destiny of every human person - the teaching that is at the heart of our Christian response to the evils of euthanasia, abortion, war, murder and violence of all forms." Today we celebrate a Feast of Our Lady that fills our hearts with hope. While the Assumption of Our Lady was a long≠held Catholic belief, while from the very early days of the church it was the popular faith of the people that Mary was taken into heaven at the end of her life it was only in 1950 that it became part of Catholic Dogma. Belief in Mary's Assumption springs from belief in her immaculate conception. Because she was sinless Mary did not suffer decay which is the penalty for sin. Mary addressed as "Full of Grace" by the messenger of God did not suffer corruption. Reason for hope What message has the Assumption of Our Lady for each one of us as we try to live our lives of faith in 2004? Vatican II calls Mary's Assumption "a sign of sure hope and comfort". Our sure hope springs from the assurance that what Mary is today we are destined to be. We too will be raised up, some day, in the totality of the persons that we are body and soul. This body of ours which grows and suffers and rejoices is destined for wonderful things. This body of ours like Mary's human body is destined for the glory which no eye has seen and which our human hearts cannot even imagine. St Paul compares our body to a seed before death (1 Cor. 15). We know that the seed sown in the soil grows into all the fullness of trees and flowers and fruit. If this happens to the seed sown in the soil what may we not hope for? The assurance of Mary's assumption body and soul into heaven confirms us in that hope. Reason why Pius XII felt it necessary to define the Doctrine of the Assumption in 1950 If this doctrine of the Assumption was in the popular faith of the people from the early days of the Church why was it necessary to proclaim it as part of Catholic Dogma in 1950. It was obvious that the Pope was reading the signs of the times. He had seen the massacre of humanity on a massive scale in two world wars. The horror of the holocaust and of the concentration camps was still fresh in the minds of the people The cold war had begun and the threat of annihilation became a real possibility with the development of the atomic bomb . Respect for the dignity and the destiny of the human person was at an all time low. The Pope realised that the world needed a message of hope. It was because of this that the Doctrine of the Assumption, which was Catholic belief from the early centuries, was proclaimed part of the Catholic Dogma in 1950. The Pope had consulted the bishops of the world and through them the priests, religious and laity. 98% of the response was positive. The Response The Response `to the Dogma from the Catholic world was immediate and positive. In that same year 1950 the Author Graham Green wrote and I quote: "Catholics today cannot remain untouched by the general heresy of our time ≠ the unimportance of the individual. The definition of the Doctrine of the Assumption proclaims again the doctrine of the Resurrection, the eternal destiny of each human person. Again it is the history of Mary that maintains the doctrine with clarity. The Resurrection of Christ can be regarded as the Resurrection of God but the Resurrection of Mary foreshadows the Resurrection of each one of us" (Catholic Digest Vol. 15 1950). Need for Hope Today Over half a century later we need to rediscover in our hearts the hope that is rooted in the Assumption of Our Lady - hope for the dignity and destiny of every human person. We must realise in our hearts that our destiny is like Mary's ≠ it is the destiny of every human person, from the foetus in the womb to the frail old person dying alone, ≠ it is a destiny of immeasurable dignity and glory. No frailty, no human infirmity, no disability, no deprivation of senses or memory can ever lesson the true value of the human person body as well as soul. No matter how we may be seen by human eyes, no matter how some may write off people with special needs born or unborn all of us are destined for glory. This is a sure hope because Mary, a human person like any of us, has already entered that glory. Belief in the dignity and destiny of every human person, calls us to human compassion and to the healing care of every single member of the human family. Mary's Assumption is our Hope and our Comfort Mary's Assumption confirms in a compelling way what the Church teaches about the human person. The belief in human dignity is at the heart of all our Christian teaching on the evils of euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment, war murder and violence in all its forms. The belief in the dignity and destiny of the human person stands strong against all that threatens or seeks to destroy the dignity of human life ≠ racism, terrorism, discrimination substance abuse, arms trade and the exploitation of people for economic gain. Our comfort, our consolation is that this life, this precious gift is greater than all the economies and all the powers of the world. Sometimes we may be frightened because it seems as if all that threatens our faith and our dignity as persons is very strong and very powerful. Never for one moment, did Mary doubt God's power to lift up the weak and the vulnerable ≠ to come to the help of the down trodden and the despised. She says in her Magnificat in her salute to Elizabeth; "the Almighty works marvels for me holy his name. He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud hearted. He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly." Mary a Woman of Hope We are all gathered here at Mary's Shrine with many people who are ill, or worried, or depressed or frightened of the future. We remember that when Mary appeared here at Knock the people of this community and indeed of our country were experiencing great poverty and the pain of oppression and indeed of eviction. The Apparition of August 1879 was silent but it spoke a powerful message of hope to the hearts of all Irish people ≠ a message of reassurance that heaven cared. I hope today as we celebrate her Assumption into glory that Our Lady will speak a gentle message of hope to the hearts of all of you who suffer so much. May you know the healing power of her care in your lives. Assumption of Mary rooted in her Faith and Trust in God Let us always remember that Mary was assumed into glory because in her life she had the faith, the strength and courage to say yes to God and live that yes every moment of every day of her life. There are people who would like to present Mary as the docile, subservient weak-willed yes≠woman of history. And it would suit their purpose also to identify women of the Catholic faith across the world with this perception of Mary as a woman weak in character. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mary said yes to the Will of God but only when she had asked questions and was satisfied that it was the Holy Spirit who would fill her heart and her life with the love and with life of God. Immediately after the Annunciation Mary's first concern was not for herself but for her cousin Elizabeth and she crossed the hill country of Judea ≠ a rough, tough journey of over eighty miles to care for her during her months of pregnancy and at the birth of Christ. Mary was strong but always sensitive to the needs of others ≠ always gentle and generous in her response. Sharing with friends at the wedding of Cana did not prevent her from looking around and observing something that would bring misery to the married couple. Her approach to Jesus was direct and full of confidence ≠ "they have no wine". Her address to all of us at Cana is equally direct and equally strong ≠ "Do whatever he tells You". Mary said Yes to the Will of God and lived that Yes every moment of every day of her life. That is why Jesus said that Mary was closer to Him because she heard the Word of God and kept it than because she was His mother physically. Mary's Yes to the Will of God meant that she conceived and gave birth to Jesus, that she fed Him, washed Him, clothed Him and prepared Him in love for life. Her Yes meant that Mary walked with Jesus through life ≠ that she was hurt when he suffered, grieved when he was lost and confused with His response when she challenged Him. Mary stood at the foot of the Cross "Stabat Mater". She was standing not swooning because the sword of sorrow was piercing her mother's heart. She knew she could not take away the pain or suffering of her son but she had the inner strength to stand there and suffer with and for Him. And when she held the body of her crucified son in her arms she embraced all of suffering humanity. Nothing weak about Mary No there is nothing weak physically, morally, psychologically or emotionally about Mary. She represents all that is best and beautiful of humanity. It is in the Magnificat that we discover the deep faith of Mary, her option for the poor and the source of her strength. Notice the first few lines are her own prayers of praise and the rest relates to the world: "My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour; He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed. The Almighty works marvels for me, Holy is his name! His mercy is from age to age, On those who fear him. He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted. He casts the mighty from their thrones And raises the lowly. May all of us have the faith to say yes to the Will of God and live that yes every day of our lives.
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