The Blessed Virgin Mary - Feast of the Assumption
In the system of Christianity, in the story of the Church, in the heats of the faithful, in the glory of heaven, the Virgin Mother for ever has her place beside her Divine Son, and the name of Mary lives upon the lips of those who call upon the name of Jesus. Mother and Son - bound together by the most tender ties that can unite two human hearts - who would dare to separate them, if any have dishonored the Virgin Mother while pretending to invoke her Divine Son, let hearts like yours, that love them both, protest against the sacrilege, as an outrage as well against the holiest feelings of human nature as against the infallible teaching of the Church of God.
When in the fullness of time God visited his people, He came to them in the womb of Mary. He was carried an infant in her arms, grew into youth and into manhood under the fostering influence of her motherhood. As a public teacher and as a worker of miracles, though His life seemed to separate from hers, Mary had in Him ever the largest part. None ever knew, none ever can know, as she knew, the inmost history of that sacred heart - for others, at best, were but His friends. Mary, only, was His Mother. And as it was in life, so also was it in death. She shared the bitterness of His Passion, and had her part in the bitterness of the last great agony; and when her Son's heart burst upon Calvary, the sword that had hung over her life from the day of Simeon's prophecy went keen and sharp through hers. She saw Him lying dead - her tears fell thick and fast upon his dead, white face, and were paid back by the latest look of love, when the clouds of Olivet bore Him into heaven.
When in the fullness of time God visited his people, He came to them in the womb of Mary. He was carried an infant in her arms, grew into youth and into manhood under the fostering influence of her motherhood. As a public teacher and as a worker of miracles, though His life seemed to separate from hers, Mary had in Him ever the largest part. None ever knew, none ever can know, as she knew, the inmost history of that sacred heart – for others, at best, were but His friends. Mary, only, was His Mother. And as it was in life, so also was it in death. She shared the bitterness of His Passion, and had her part in the bitterness of the last great agony; and when her Son’s heart burst upon Calvary, the sword that had hung over her life from the day of Simeon’s prophecy went keen and sharp through hers. She saw Him lying dead – her tears fell thick and fast upon his dead, white face, and were paid back by the latest look of love, when the clouds of Olivet bore Him into heaven.
In prophecy and in fulfillment her place has always been beside our Divine Lord. Down through all the centuries the vision dawns, and grows, and brightens, of the Woman and her Son. That vision dawned - the silver lining to the cloud which man's first sin had flung like a pall of death upon the fresh beauty of the newly-made word. The voice of God sent thrilling through the sad music of humanity the one glad note of hope – “One shall be born of the Woman who shall crush thy head.” The vision grew into clearer form, into brighter beauty, when the veil that lies upon all things to come was lifted by the hand of God before the gaze of His great prophet; and Isaiah, from the mountain tops of vision, shouted down to the desolate world his exultant message ‘ “A virgin shall conceive, and she shall bear a son.” The vision brightened into the perfect beauty that shall never fade, when from the lips of her who was “full of grace” came forth the humble words – “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word.” Then “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” Blending together in a union that neither time shall weaken nor eternity have power to break, the music of the two sweet names of Jesus and of Mary – bringing these two together by so strong a tie, that from that hour to this no one can hope to know and honor Jesus without at the same time knowing and honoring Mary His mother.
And this, when all is said, is, for the followers of Jesus, the one sufficient reason for devotion to Mary, that it is from her, from her Sacred Heart, we best can know what it behoves us above all other things to learn – the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Out of the thirty-three years that our Blessed Lord spent on earth, the Evangelists have entered into anything like detail only with regard to three. These three were the years of public ministry – years full of wonder, full of teaching, and, above all things, full of example, especially for those whose call it is to minister to the public necessities of mankind. But if we only consider it, it is precisely in the quiet years that glided by in the obscurity of Nazareth, that the great majority of men should seek a lesson. In its lowliness, in its obscurity, in its poverty, it was like what the vast multitude of human homes must always be. The people in every country and in every time lead lives just like your own – quiet years that glided by in the obscurity of Nazareth, that the great majority of men should seek a lesson. In its lowliness, in its obscurity, in its poverty, it was like what the vast multitude of human homes must always be. The people in every country and in every time lead lives just like your own – quiet, uneventful lives, brightened by ordinary joys that even in this sad world are the natural birthright of hearts that know the meaning of friendship and of affection – lives marked by the ordinary sorrows that cluster round every home; and it is not so much in the duties of public office, as in the kindly charities and the unobtrusive virtues that flourish best at home, that the vast majority of men need special lessons. And, Oh! How well, how eloquently, with what sublime simplicity such a lesson would be given, could we but lift the veil, which the silence of four evangelists, have flung upon the homely life Nazareth.
We can only dream, and picture, and faintly imagine the awful simplicity of life within that holy house. Angels have not dared to whisper – never can it be written in human words – the pens of evangelists have failed before the task of telling in detail how Jesus grew in wisdom and in age, and in grace with God and men. And yet, my brethren, it has been written, and written for our instruction, in the only volume that was worthy of such a record: it was written upon the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“His mother,” says the Evangelist, when he was about to leave unwritten the story of the life at Nazareth, “His mother,” he adds, as if to show where the deficiency might be supplied, “His mother kept all these words in her heart.”
Do you think now that anyone who wishes to know the Sacred Heart of Jesus can afford to dispense with a careful and loving study of the Sacred Heart of Mary?
It is precisely on this account, that the Church is solicitous to follow in detail the life of Mary, just as she follows in detail the life of Jesus – mapping out the mysteries of her life, and her virtues, and her privileges – instituting festivals for each, that the people may never cease, the whole year round, hearing about the mother they so deeply love.
And there is no festival connected with the Blessed Virgin, so full of perfect joy as the festival we are celebrating to-day. We have seen, while celebrating her other festivals, what, during her life, was that “better part” which Mary chose. We have seen, while celebrating her other festivals, what, during her life was that “better part” which Mary chose. We have seen that it was a part which the world would despise, because it was a part most opposed to what the world itself is seeking. The world counts that life happy which has in it these three things – Notoriety, Wealth, Comfort. To be spoken of by men – to live upon men’s lips, and then to have riches, and the influence that riches give – and finally to use our fame and wealth so wisely as to secure all earthly peace, to let nothing disturb the even tenor of a life of comfort or even of luxury – this is the part that the world prizes, and which the world would choose if it only had choice – nay, and when I speak of the world, perhaps there are some even among yourselves who think, sometimes, at any rate, that in such choice, and in such seeking the world is wise.
Some of you may have felt the keen desire to be well spoken of in your own circle – felt that appetite for wealth that grows with the amassing of it – felt that it were well to surround your life with every comfort your hands ca snatch from precarious circumstance. Have you ever had any thoughts like these?
Well, if you have had, it is well you should remember to-day, and lay it well to heart, that the better part which Mary chose, and the choosing of which placed her upon her throne as Queen of Heaven, was a part not only different from this, but diametrically opposite to this.
Mary’s life from beginning to end – what was it? Well, it was a life of obscurity. Her youth was buried in the silence of the temple. No one noticed her but God; her name never passed the threshold of the temple gate. Then she passed to even greater obscurity – the obscurity of a poverty-stricken home. Even in the Gospel, she is never mentioned, except upon the strictest necessity.
The Evangelists – who knew about her so much that men now would give half their other knowledge to know – the Evangelists respected her love of obscurity, and keep her very name, as much as possible, out of the public record of the life of Jesus. We catch just a glimpse of her here and there, and she shrinks back into the obscurity in which her heart delighted. Then, again, her part was a part of poverty – such poverty as is known in the homes of the toiling poor, poverty that never lifts its hand, that never relaxes its pressure, that leaves its mark on the toil-hardened hands, and on the face grown old before its time; this poverty Mary knew and loved – nay, not Mary only, but Jesus. He earned His bread by the labor of His hands, making yokes for oxen, and rude implements of rustic toil. Mary was poor to the very end; after Calvary she had not, what even the poorest cling to – a home of her own. She lived in the house of that favored disciple tto whom Christ in his agony said, “Son, behold thy mother.”
And finally, Mary’s part was a part of mortification. What comfort was ever in her life? Even those quiet years when she had Jesus to herself in Nazareth – even then her comfort was broken by the prophetic knowledge of the awful agony that was to end His life. Could she ever have kissed the forehead of her Child without thinking of the crown of thorns. When the hands were busy at their daily work she saw in them the bleeding print of the rough nail. Over all the life that in its simplicity, in its holiness, in its security, might have been so happy – over all that life there fell for Mary, the shadow of the cross. And then Jesus left her, and her heart began to be broken. She had parted with Him, had given Him up to the vengeance of sin. He was never to be hers again, until for a brief space He would lie dead upon her knees.
Comfort! Who would dare to speak of comfort to a mother so afflicted. This, my brethren, was the part that Mary chose. And it is well that you should remember – even though you remembered nothing else of the day’s sermon – that it is an inviolable rule of the Gospel by which you hope for life, that mortification and suffering, and patient bearing of the evils that come to every life, that these are the way, and the only way to Heaven. Whom God wants to save, to that soul He sends suffering. Do you want a proof? Whom of all others did god love best? Of course you answer, His son, Jesus. And yet, Jesus will be known to the end of time as the “Man of Sorrows.” And whom, next to Jesus, did God love best? Again you answer, Mary, His mother – that mother whom you have seen and known to be so afflicted – that mother whose heart was pierced by a sword of sevenfold sorrow. This is the law – absolute, inviolable – admitting no exception, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
And now, having seen one side, the earthly side, of the better part which Mary chose, let us turn to the other side – the side upon which falls the glory and the light of heaven.
This is the feast of that heavenly side of Mary’s blessed choice. To-day we see her no longer on earth, but on her throne in heaven. To-day there are no tears upon her face, no anguish on her brow; death has come and given peace; the eyes have closed to all earthly sorrow, and opened to the Divine Vision into whose Holy Presence no sorrow can ever come.
She dies. She is judged. Oh, blessed judgment! Her pure soul is reunited to her immaculate body. The tide of life flows back upon its deserted shore. Mary lives again, and lives forever. Borne by hosts of angels, but born far more surely by her burning eagerness, Mary ascends to heaven. Lift up your gates, ye princes of heaven, lift up your gates, your Queen has come. Even the sweet-voiced cherubim were mute, even the keen-eyed seraphim veiled their eyes before the meeting in heaven, of the Mother and her Son. Above angel and archangel, above powers and principalities, above cherubim and seraphim, above the seven awful spirits who minister at the very throne of God, Mary is lifted to her place. Her throne is next the throne of Jesus; upon her brow He places a crown, and by the acclamation of heaven she is proclaimed forever Queen of Angels, Queen of Saints, Queen and Mother of Men.
And now, my brethren, having witnessed this great pageant of heaven, it is well we should remember that it is meant to be no mere empty spectacle to amuse the fancy or to gratify the eye – it is meant to have its place among the means of salvation. Mary is seated on her throne that she may be, to the end of time, the object of Catholic devotion; and every Catholic knows how large a part of the religion he professes is made up of devotion to the Mother of God. I think it well, therefore, before I end, to renew within you the knowledge which you doubtless have, of the nature of that devotion, and expound for you, in brief by sufficient words, how eminently reasonable is the devotion which we Catholics are proud to pay to Mary our Mother.
The devotion of the Church to the Blessed Virgin may be said to consist of two parts. First, we honor Mary, and secondly, we have recourse to her intercession. Hence, in order to prove the reasonableness of this devotion it is only necessary to prove – first, that Mary is worthy of honor, and secondly, that she has the power and the inclination to help us.
Is Mary worthy of honor? Well, if anyone ever asks you the question let your answer be – Surely Mary is worthy of all the honor given her by God Himself. He is the infallible Judge of all worthiness; and there is no honor which men can pay to the Blessed Virgin Mary, equal to the honor which God bestowed upon her, when He elevated her to the dignity of being mother to His Son. Mary is Mother of God. What honor provided it be less than the honor due to God alone – can be too great to lavish upon her whom, out of all creatures actual and possible, Jesus selected as His mother.
But, in the second place, from this motherhood comes not only dignity but power. Enthroned Queen of Heaven, seated at the right hand of her Son and her God, what shall Mary ask and not obtain? What prayer of hers can fall unheeded upon the ear of Jesus? What prayerful look shall fail to touch that Sacred Heart that first was formed of her purest blood. But if Mary be worthy of honor – if from her dignity as Mother of God comes her power to hear us and to help – it only remains to ask if, being able, Mary is also willing to assist us?
Behold the answer. Mary is our mother! Even in our fallen nature, branded as it is with the degradation which sin has brought upon it, there are still some feelings which seem beyond the reach of corruption, and chief of these is mother’s love. It is unselfish and ever-lasting, patient and ineffaceable; it never tires, never gives up; time cannot weaken it; ingratitude itself cannot kill it. Even in this cold world the mother will not forget the son whom she has borne. Unlovely he may be to others, but they do not see him with a mother’s eye. He may have drifted far from the innocence of childhood, he may be stained with many a crime, his hand may be against the world, and the world’s hand against him, but still, while his mother lives, he holds one fast, one firm friend. The world may frown on him, but her eyes light up with welcome when he comes. The heart that cherished him in his day of innocence, when he was a child, cannot forget him even in his days of crime, when he is grown into a sin-stained man.
Sorrowing, but with a patience like the patience of heaven, her head, her house, her heart, are open to the world-worn prodigal. He may have placed the early wrinkle on her brow, and sown the silver streak upon her hair; he may have planted thorns in her pillow, and made her heart ache with very anguish for his follies and his crimes, still she remembers only that she is his mother. When all her schemes have failed, when his sins – as sins always do – have found him out and dragged him down, when the hand of sorrow has bowed him to the dust, his mother’s hand is there to sooth, his mother’s heart is there to sympathize, his mother’s love is there to pour balm into the wounds that sin and sorrow have inflicted on his soul. And Mary is your mother. You have it on the word of the dying Savior - "behold your mother." And what a mother! The earthly mother may forget her son, and remember no more the child whom she has borne, but Mary can no more forget her children than she can forget Him Who committed them to her tender motherhood.