Last weekend, I was talking with someone in the sacristy and said that that, in my opinion, this is the best time of year to be in New York. The last two weeks of August may be hot, humid, mobbed with tourists.
But: during rush hour, you can always get a seat on the subway.
Most New Yorkers have fled the city, traveling or staying out of town. And coincidentally, the gospel today begins with a scene everyone can understand: a journey.
“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste…”
Of course, what Mary does here is hardly a vacation. She has just been told that she is to be the Mother of God. And rather than keeping this news to herself, or wondering how she will cope, she sets out on a journey, to visit her cousin, Elizabeth — and we have this momentous scene that follows, The Visitation.
Too often, we think of the Blessed Mother as a quiet, serene figure – placid and passive.
But this day, I’d like to ask you to think of her differently.
Mary, in fact, is a person of action, on the move. This is a woman who is going places.
She is a woman on a journey — constantly, by necessity, traveling.
After this journey to see Elizabeth, we next find Mary embarking on an arduous trip, while pregnant, to Bethlehem.
Then, she is on the move again, fleeing to Egypt, to escape death.
We meet her again, journeying to Jerusalem, where her son goes missing – and we follow her as she goes in search of him. That whole episode ends with yet another journey, back to Nazareth.
Mary, the first disciple, in many ways prefigures all the disciples who will follow – traveling to spread the gospel and proclaim the Good News. Mary is a woman on a mission—you could call her the first missionary, one who literally carried Christ to the world.
In today’s gospel, we see her bringing Jesus to another, as she carries him in her womb and speaks a missionary’s words– words which are very the beginning of all belief:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”
What follows, the Magnificat, is Mary’s great gift to scripture, one of its most beautiful prayers. It so fundamental to our faith that is prayed every evening by millions around the world as part of the Liturgy of the Hours. With that, Mary’s great acclamation becomes the Church’s. And her missionary work continues, even now.
We can only imagine what other travels she took in the course of her life … but we can’t forget the most difficult of all, as she walked with her son to Calvary.
Today, on this feast, we celebrate her ultimate journey – her Assumption into heaven. The woman who spent so much of her life in motion — setting out in haste, searching, fleeing – finally is given a place of rest, a place “prepared by God,” as Revelation puts it. This day, we honor that, and honor how God has “looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
Though she has left this world, Mary is not removed from it. As our mother and our intercessor, she remains close to us. All of us, like Mary, are on a journey. All of us are traveling to places we may not understand, to destinations we cannot see. This is life. We ask Mary to help guide us on our way.
The road is long. The journey isn’t easy through “this, our exile,” this “vale of tears.” We pray to have the trust and courage to travel whatever road we must take – just as Mary did.
In a few minutes, we’ll all be rushing out the door, heading to the subway, getting in the car, moving on. But before we do that, we pause. And we pray. Like us, Mary was in a hurry. We pray for her companionship as we ourselves “set out in haste” to all the places we need to be.
And we turn our hearts to this woman “full of grace,” imploring her to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
Because we are all on a journey.
And we have so much further to go.