Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. Of all the religions of the world, none insists on the dignity of the human person more than Christianity. With our Jewish brothers and sisters, we hold that we are made in the image and likeness of God. If that claim wasn’t extraordinary enough, Christianity takes it a stage further and says that every baptised person is also a beloved child of God the Father, a temple of the Holy Spirit and co-heir of Christ. We Christians hold that this amazing inheritance as sons and daughters of God is enjoyed by us already in the present but that its full benefits will be enjoyed in a future preserved for us by God.
In the course of human history, this divinely conferred dignity of the human person has often been reduced or ignored with tragic consequences. There are several examples we could mention including the horrors of the Second World War. In the aftermath of that conflict, the world struggled to come to terms with the barbaric examples it had witnessed of man’s inhumanity to man. In response, the United Nations drew up its Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In the Church, the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary was defined in Rome on 1st November 1950 by Pope Pius XII. For most people at the time, the dogma had only to do with Mary. But perhaps without fully realising it, the Church was making an extremely important affirmation not only about the dignity and destiny of Mary but about the dignity and destiny of every human being. Only five short years after World War II had ended, the totality of human existence, its dignity before God and its future was being asserted as a direct consequence of Mary’s Assumption. It was a message the world badly needed to hear then as it does now.
Mary’s Assumption is about her whole existence, body and soul, sharing fully in the resurrection of her Son. At the heart of this feast day is the love between Our Lady and her Son that was so strong in life that it united them totally after death. Jesus wanted her to be with him and to share in the new life he won for all of us. Where he is in glory with the Father, he wants us to be as well. With the feast of the Assumption, God’s Word beckons us: ‘Here in glory with me is where I want you to be. Here is your future and your fulfilment. Never take your eyes off the destiny of your journey in life and never depart from the path that leads here’.
The Assumption of Mary into heaven also speaks to the modern world of the innate dignity of every human being, body and soul. It speaks of human dignity being once again ‘lifted up’ after a horrific time of war in the last century when it had been beaten down. God wants us to know that dignity, to cherish it in ourselves and honour it in others. He wants us to know where our dignity comes from and who has conferred it upon us. Mary’s glorification in body and soul is a sign that every aspect of our lives is important to God and is touched by his saving spirit.
This is why Mary is a profound symbol of hope and healing for body and soul in a broken world. The Assumption is an inspiration for us to protect human rights and defend human dignity especially those who are in danger of their futures being taken away through violence or neglect. In every age and time, dark forces try to reduce the dignity of the human person or convince Christianity that her insistence on the sacredness of human life is too high. The Assumption of Mary holds before us again, the awesome truth of what the Gospel teaches and the awesome dignity to which God has raised humanity.