Fr Robin Gibbons gave the following homily at Maria Assumpta Chapel, Kensington Square, on the Solemnity of the Assumption, today, August 15th 2018, to give thanks for 65 years of the English Province of the Assumption Sisters, and for the future International Province to come - which brings together Lithuania, Belgium, UK and Italy. (Further report to follow).
1. My dear Sisters, for it is you I must first greet, so many joys on this your great feast, so many joys past to be grateful for, the 65 years (which I share in exact age) of the English Province, but so many joys too of the friendships forged and communities begun and finished during the years.
There is much to be happy about and a new future awaits, one easily taken, if you who follow Mary in example and admiration, simply take the road of Nazareth with its signpost Fiat, Let your will be done! This is the simple and gently trodden discipleship of Christ, the one His Mother (and so many since) have taken in the setting of people and place.
2. The Assumption, or Dormition, to give it the Eastern and more ancient title, is an old feast, and I suppose in theological terms we can say with truth that as with much in Liturgy, belief precedes and then informs practice, so we believe that the Dormition of the Mary was a festival of some kind in Antioch at the end of the 4th Century. There are small mentions of her in the canonical scriptures, other writing, such as the proto-evangelium of James extant in 150 CE, references her childhood and also her parents Joachim and Anna. By the year 600CE the feast was well established in Constantinople on August 15th and taken up by Rome 50years later. Is it scriptural? Yes in that sense Mary was Christ's mother and died after him, her place in the narrative of salvation clear and unambiguous, her hiddenness no more, no less, than many in the Gospels, but her presence for the faithful people of Christ, has been continually loved, bright in its fame and golden in its renown.
3. I hope you will excuse in this sharing my fondness (or a bias?) towards the French poetic inspiration: my own love of Notre Dame comes quite distinctively from my French background, and that I acknowledge willingly, for the French poems about her say things so well. Geoffrey Hill's Seven Hymns to Our Lady of Chartres, a form of hommage to the poet and mystic Charles Péguy amongst others, puts her place in the theology of salvation like this:
"O dulcis Virgo, you are the stained world's
Ransom, bear its image, live through your
Perpetual exile in its courts of prayer.
'This is the carnal rose that re-enfolds
Heaven into earth.'
They say you are disposed
To acts of grace: tumblers and holy fools.
Child-saints rejoice you, small immaculate souls,
And mundane sorrows mystically espoused."
In those verses from Hill's hymn we find an echo of why Our Lady, Notre Dame, the Blessed Virgin-Theotokos has such a fixed and deep place in our faith. There are those of course, who find the honour and veneration of Mary difficult to take, we must not disparage them, for in true familial fashion they warn us continually not to make of Mary an image of our own desires, not to ever separate her from her son, the Incarnate Resurrected Lord. Yet for us she has become an intercessor for all who intercede, one of us, linked in flesh, in life and yes in death with us. She is more the carnal rose, less the mystical rose for us in this time of our world, for we have need of her to be disposed to more acts of grace with us in the road of the mundane, amongst those little ones and holy fools of God!
4. We look to her on this feast for a message of hope and trust: the will of the Lord has been done so far by you dear sisters, for we celebrate 65 years of a grouping of the English province of the Religious of the Assumption. There are so many of the Communion of the Holy Ones, gone before us but present here today, we sense them united beyond our space and time in the Kairos, God's time of the Kingdom. I am sure each of you will remember these words of St Marie Eugénie concerning the feast of the Assumption:
"You are daughters of the Assumption. This mystery which is more of heaven than of earth is a mystery of adoration. In Mary all was adoration; never was a right of God ignored or offended in her. If there has ever been an adorer in spirit and in truth, it is truly the Blessed Virgin. And when, departing from this world, she received the glory which crowned her grace, she was taken up into heaven to remain there eternally all adoration and love."
-From the Chapter of St. Marie Eugénie, February 24, 1878
This is all true, but at a point of new departure, those words can be recast slightly. It goes like this: Who amongst us thinks or mediates much about life after Jesus for Mary? We all seem to stop at the foot of the cross or, if we are familiar with the Eastern tradition, to see her amongst those frightened apostles at Pentecost. Did she, I wonder meet her son on the shore, or find him on a walk or experience him in the garden? We don't know exactly, but we do know she felt and lived as we live and her memory of him lightens up the great memory of him in our Eucharist, our Baptism, our love for each other in compassion and mercy, and she died as we shall, to rise with Christ ,she to become the first amongst the saints and we part of that family. Yes, this mystery might be adoring, but it now has to be the bringing of the City of God amongst the City of Humans, to use Augustine's famous image. Yes we adore Christ, but not only in Eucharist but like Mary in each other, in life, in creatures and in our planet.
5. Mary in her Assumption also becomes the Mother of Mission; here is Claudel on her role:
"There are things that Christ Himself does not under- stand unless His Mother whispers them in His ear Mary, you are our living tongue, you are our elo- quence without end. You alone can talk face to face with God! Only you can divine our thoughts, express our souls, pray our prayers, desire our desires, cry our cries, suffer our pain . . . For that Word which begets all things is ever with you in order that you may express all things, in order that you may whisper in the Father's ear the names of all who are capable of being His sons. And if He pretends not to see, your skill insures that His groping fingers will find His Lamb! "(I Believe in God: A Meditation on the Apostles' Creed Paul Claudel published 1963)
This could only be done through her death and life in the Kingdom, it is your mission also, our mission too, adorers of the world of God not hidden but all too visible. Out task is to remember and whisper to God with her. She may be eternally in the Kingdom, but she is present with us as the Kingdom comes.
6. So, new ventures ahead. When the Monastics, Robert, Alberic and Stephen Harding, founders of Citeaux, started out their new monastic life, it was said of them that they were "lovers of the place and the brethren ". Whatever horizons open up in a new Province, we must all still be lovers of the place and brethren (sorry sisters and brothers). Boundaries can be somewhat arbitrary, but we love the place we were born, where we grew up, or a place that meant something! We are lovers of our nationality, ancestral or adopted, now you have to expand that love of place to include others in your loved places and you in theirs too: but above all, we will love that New Jerusalem when it comes!
7. We now let go, of a past as Mary did and helps us to do, to die a little to self, but to gain more than the whole world: here is Charles Péguy, who sums up this feast as one of hope:
"But hope, says God, that is something that surprises me.
That is surprising.
That these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better.
That they see how things are going today and believe that they will go better tomorrow morning.
That is surprising and its by far the greatest marvel of our grace.
And I'm surprised by it myself.
And my grace must indeed be an incredible force."
(Charles Péguy b 1873 d 1914 Marne
The Portal of the Mystery of Hope)
An End Blessing:
11th Century Litany of Mary
Greatest of Marys
Greatest of Women
Mother of Eternal Glory
Mother of the Golden Light
Honour of the Sky
Temple of the Divinity
Fountain of the Gardens
Serene as the Moon
Bright as the Sun
Temple of the Living God
Light of Nazareth
Beauty of the World
Queen of Life
Ladder of Heaven
Mother of God: Pray for Us. Amen
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