If you’re curious, I’m waiting till I get to -33- before I start naming my posts. Somehow I feel that will prove I’ve made it a habit.
Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and I thought I’d share a stupid little story that makes me laugh when I remember it.
But first let’s get spiral to the point. (Help me out, people-what’s the opposite of “straight to the point”? Forte: it’s not “gay to the point”…)
The Church teaches that, because of her special role in salvation history, Jesus’ mother has been blessed with being the first Christian to experience the resurrection of the body that Christians believe everyone will experience at the end of time. The Church says that, at the end of her earthly life, God took the Virgin Mary, body and soul, up to heaven. I don’t know what her zip code is or exactly how that works, but that’s the Church’s teaching. Protestants may think that’s crazy, but the Bible says both Enoch and Elijah were taken up to be with God, so they can’t dismiss this idea as merely a Catholic invention.
One of the strongest arguments in favor of the universality and antiquity of this belief in the pre-Reformation Church is the interesting fact that there are no pilgrimage sites that even claim to be the tomb of the Virgin Mary. Think about it: even in the most corrupt times of the Church when charlatans were claiming to have such spurious relics as the head of John the Baptist as a child and the Virgin Mary’s breast milk, no one set up a roadside shrine in Ephesus or Jerusalem or anywhere trying to capitalize on the burial place of the most famous saint ever. This, along with the fact that Satanists never perform “Black” Presbyterian Worship Services, is one of my favorite arguments for the truth of Catholicism.
Anyway, “at the end of her earthly life” God brings Mary to Himself. Notice that the Church doesn’t say, “after her death.” This is because there are theological reasons for believing that Our Lady was exempt from the penalty of death to which all other members of our fallen race are subject. If, as the Church also teaches, God preserved (i.e. saved) Mary from the “stain” of Original Sin (i.e. its effects), this makes perfect sense. Now again Protestants might object to this idea because they believe it’s human nature to be sinful, but that’s not strictly true. Remember, before the Fall Adam and Eve were created sinless (“able to stand, but free to fall” as Milton puts it), so being human doesn’t require one to be sinful. All Christians acknowledge Jesus as the New Adam; some of us recognize Mary as the New Eve. As the new, perfectly obedient Eve who always says to her Lord, “Let it be done unto me according to your will,” it again makes sense that Our Lady would be free from the penalty of death.
Now, careful readers might object and point out that Jesus died and he was indisputably free from sin, so why wouldn’t Mary die as well? Well, that’s why the Church’s formula is as it is. “At the end of her early life” could mean when she died or when her life changed from being earthly to being heavenly. In the Eastern Church they speak of the Dormition (i.e. the going to sleep) of the Virgin Mary.
I’d also like to point out that Jesus didn’t have to die, he allowed himself to be killed. This is why we corrected the English translation of the Nicene Creed to say “He suffered death and was buried” instead of “He suffered, died, and was buried.” Suffer means “to allow.” From older English translations of the Bible you might recall Jesus saying, “Suffer the children to come into me.” He’s not telling the Disciples to inflict harm on children. He’s saying, “Let them come to me.” Interestingly, our word passion has the same root as passive. Thus, the “passion of Christ” doesn’t mean “the intense emotional ordeal of the Messiah” as so many people mistakenly think. It means “the agony and pain Jesus allowed Himself to be subject to even though He could have summoned a host of angels and wiped out the Romans in a heartbeat.”
So, enough spiraling. The stupid story:
The summer between my sophomore and junior years of college I spent a month or so living in community with some friends in Steubenville, Ohio. We had gone out to attend the summer conferences at Franciscan University with a group called Catholic Commission, which was like Campus Crusade for Christ, but Catholic. We lived in a house without a TV or a phone (it did have basement we referred to as “The Promised Land” that featured a solitary toilet out in the open with no privacy whatsoever), so instead of vegging out at night or chatting on the phone, we would pray the rosary.
Well, our house leader was a very conscientious man and he very much disliked the fact that, whenever we prayed the Glorious Mysteries, some of my housemates and I would get the giggles during the fourth decade.
“Why are you laughing?”
“No reason,” I chortle.
“Seriously, what gives?”
“Fine. It’s just this mystery is about the Assumption.”
“Well, what if Mary was just washing the dishes after dinner in her home in Ephesus and was about to serve the Beloved Disciple some dessert and she turns away from the sink to grab the baklava and when turns back, there’s Jesus and the rest of the Trinity staring at her. Jesus says, ‘Welcome to heaven, Ma! Ain’t it great?'”
“And, well, Mary’s upset.”
“Why is Mary upset?”
“Well, because she’s a good hostess and wanted to make sure John got his dessert.”
“So why does that make you guys giggle?”
“Because, what if she gets mad at Jesus for taking her up body and soul and his apology is where we got the name of the mystery? ‘Gee, Ma, well, um, I guess Dad, HS, and I just figured you’d like to join us…'”