The bodily assumption of Mary into heaven is an event that signals the full dignity and supernatural vocation of man. It is a dogma that needs to be proclaimed in our current moment when belief in the dignity of the human being is seeming to fade. Notice that it is not abstract “rights” but a concrete event by which a woman, the “Blessed among women”,—not a symbol or goddess but a specific woman from a specific time and place—is assumed into Trinitarian glory. Such concreteness will help us better reaffirm all that goes into a culture of life when abstractions fail to inspire.
After two world wars and, more generally, the twentieth century that in broad strokes painted a disfigured image of man, the Assumption of Mary seems too optimistic to believe and celebrate. Shouldn’t we just content ourselves with the belief that the human being is a wicked animal with a heart of darkness, best controlled by technocratic elites whose only goal is to engineer a mechanism that will provide for our material needs? All this talk of deification, glorification, union with God, is it not fantastical and a bit naïve? Perhaps it is for a world predisposed not to believe. But the Church proclaims otherwise. The fate of Mary in the Assumption, partaking in the saving act of her son, is the great hope for man. The Assumption confirms God’s deeds especially for Mary but also for us. Such eschatological hope is not in vain.
Right after my wife and I moved from Chicago to Dallas, I attended a talk on the Assumption by Dr. James Lee of Southern Methodist University (SMU). He began his talk in amazement that Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven on November 1, 1950, a mere five years after World War II and a few months after the beginning of the Korean War. Was the Pope not reading the newspapers? Did he forget the events of recent past? But what better time than during the spread of a culture of death to declare the Assumption of Mary!
Pius XII’s proclamation was also the culmination of early twentieth century discussions in Mariology. Theologians were working out the logical implications of Mary’s mission as Theotokos and her Immaculate Conception. They were also trying to understand her Biblical identity. And even though there is no mention of the Assumption in the Scriptures, there is much justification for the dogma. For those interested in learning more about the theology and history of the dogma, I suggest reading my friend Matthew Levering’s Mary’s Bodily Assumption.
Over the years, I have been reading numerous reports about a rise in despair, especially amongst young people. This is very disheartening because youth are usually the ones most filled with hope. What kind of world have we created in which the youth have nothing to look forward to? Is there just a void in the end? In the next couple of days, I hope to release a manifesto of sorts for the Spe Salvi Institute. Some of you may be wondering what this institute is. Cofounder Andrew Petiprin and I are convinced that our current cultural moment requires a re-proclamation of Christian hope, and we take Pope Benedict XVI’s outline in his encyclical Spe Salvi as our guide. Much more will go into this new initiative, so stay tuned to learn more.
Benedict ends his great encyclical by directing the faithful’s gaze to Mary, our “Star of Hope”, who will “teach us to believe, to hope…[and] to show us the way to his [Christ’s] Kingdom.” The Spe Salvi Institute hopes to do the same. On this great feast, let us look to Mary, the faithful bride, who has already reached the end of our pilgrim journey. She gives us reason to hope.