What Can Be Assumed

What Can Be Assumed August 15, 2018

God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.

Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.

She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God.

The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

Now have salvation and power come,
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.
For the accuser of our brothers is cast out,
who accuses them before our God day and night.

– Revelation 11:19, 12:1-6, 9-10

Palma il Vecchio, Assumption of Mary / Image Public Domain

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”

– Luke 1:46-55

Happy Solemnity of the Assumption or Dormition of Mary!

This is exactly the celebration we need today, as Catholics reel from the revelation of unspeakable evil and betrayal from our clerical leaders, from parish priests to the highest ranks in Rome. I can see on Facebook that many of my Catholic friends have had their faith profoundly shaken, and some are wrestling in faith with questions of whether they should leave Catholic communion for Orthodox, Episcopalean, or other churches. I don’t blame anyone for this (except for the clerics whose hypocritical actions have caused others to stumble) or wish to dictate anyone’s conscience. But I do want to make the case why I am staying Catholic, and I pray you do too.

We really shouldn’t be surprised that the hierarchy of the Church, at every level, may hurt, mislead, and even betray the faithful. The “rock” of Peter upon which Christ built the institutional Church has been riddled with sin and error from the very beginning. When He said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it, that didn’t mean that the exercise of Petrine authority would be immaculate. If we build our faith on an expectation that the exercise of Petrine authority is broadly infallible, how easy it is to be disproved and destroyed! (This isn’t to deny the See of Peter’s capacity to promulgate statements of infallible dogmas, but that is a rather rare occurrence, one of the few being the dogma we celebrate today of Mary being assumed into Heaven body and soul because as the Immaculate Conception and firstborn of all believers she could not be subject to the decay of death.)

Today’s reading from Revelation tells us that it is not the integrity of Peter, but Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant, birthing to us God Incarnate, first in Bethlehem and then in the Sacraments, that is the reason that Hell cannot prevail.

Mary is God’s chosen instrument for disrupting all the powers of this world. Through her the mighty are cast down and the proud are scattered. The hungry are filled with good things, and the children of God are rescued. Precisely to the extent that the Church is Marian, she IS immaculate. She continuously offers us God incarnate through the Sacraments to the end of time.

How tragic it would be to walk away from this infinite gift because Peter has betrayed us yet again! I know that the destruction of trust leads some to doubt even the reality of Sacramental grace, and others have been hurt so deeply that going into a church or seeing a priest triggers PTSD. I cannot judge people leaving for these reasons. I can only testify that I know the presence of God in the Sacraments, and their power to transform me, with greater assurance than anything else I think I know about this mutable world. Jesus Christ is my everything and all, and enters me in Body and Divinity in the Eucharist. I know that sounds crazy to anyone who doesn’t already know this, but all I can say is that I would stake my life on this Mystery.

Mater ecclesia—the communion of all who have received the spirit of adoption as brothers and sisters of Christ, sharing Mary as our Mother, through the Sacraments and the Mystical Body of Christ—is my hope and consolation in this world. I’m not rejecting the Petrine aspect of the Church and going over to the Orthodox, but neither can I stake my faith on trusting it unconditionally. I do trust that the Holy Spirit will correct the errors of the Pope and the hierarchy, but this unfolds in time, and we feel even in the Church the pains of sin and imperfection that continue until the last enemy, death, has been put under Christ’s feet (as the 2nd Reading today puts it).

When the imperfections of Peter are particularly painful, that is when we must look intently to Our Blessed Mother Mary to help us abide. This was the meditation I received during the long Good Friday Liturgy earlier this year, and I think it is particularly apt again today to console those who are struggling to abide in faith in this hour of distress:
Peter Abandoned But We Abide.

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