Celebration of the Feast of Mary’s Assumption
Aug. 14-15, 2021
This is the text of the homily I preached this past Sunday at my church, Sts. Clare and Francis Ecumenical Catholic Communion. I began with the story, “The Upside-Down, Right-Side-Up Heaven” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, from her amazing book, Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul, pgs. 294-5.)
Today we’re going to talk about Her—the Holy Mother, the one letting everybody in the back door of heaven. On this Feast of the Assumption—let us open our hearts to Her, the Mother of All Life, Queen of Heaven and Earth, so that her love and rhythms of life might have a real transformative impact on our lives.
We can think of the Assumption, and relate to Mary Herself, as a bridge—bringing all those Mysteries and glories of heaven right into our midst, at the same time carrying all the ordinariness of life, all our humanness, right up to heaven, in Her arms, the Great Woman, who is the Union of Earth and Heaven. The declaration by the Church of the BODILY assumption of Mary emphasizes the union of body and soul—not just for Mary, but for all of us, in Christ.
What’s your experience been with Mary, the Mother of God? I know as Catholics this can be mixed… I grew up a little confused about who was more powerful, Mary or God? Mary or Jesus? My mother and my grandmother had a huge devotion to Mary and she was the one I was told to go to—almost like, if the problem’s really big, take it to the Mother! But then I learned weird things about Mary as a young woman, her submissiveness and silence heralded by men in power, keeping women in their place. The rosary almost seemed to be used as a weapon, at anti-abortion marches and lifted up as a marker of true piety. This didn’t sit well with me.
Is it possible to sift through the veils of what Mary is NOT, in order to claim who she IS?
I hope so, because humanity’s need for Her at this time in human history is so acute, and Her love for us and this planet is so great. Her love and presence point the way to a union human beings once knew and lived—unity with their own hearts, bodies and souls; participation in the earth’s cycles and seasons; connection with each other as one human family. We have forgotten this union, and it has had devastating consequences to the planet, to our psyches, and to our communities.
Mary—the Mother of All Life—can be this bridge for us, this reminder. The Assumption can point the way to this union. As Mary is in heaven, it seems, she is also ON and OF earth, returning to us or perhaps it is that she has always remained. Could the Assumption, this ongoing BODILY presence of Mary be pointing to a Mystery that bridges the realms, an availability of Divine love and guidance that is earthly as it is heavenly? Is this why through millennia she has appeared again and again in the colors, customs and cultures of her people, in the ways she is most easily recognized and where and when she is most needed?
At this moment in time, more people are experiencing visions, or what are called apparitions, of Mary, than ever before. We don’t hear of too many folks having visions of Jesus or Father God, but the accounts of people seeing the Mother of God, Mary, are in the hundreds and hundreds. Just from 1900 to 2011, she’s been seen 386 times, and that’s just the apparitions that have been recorded. She seems to appear when humanity is MOST in need of her, MOST longing for her love, and she is appearing with greater and greater frequency.
She appeared in Rawanda before the 1994 genocide… in 1995 in Bosnia-Herzogovina before the war… in Egypt in 2009 and 2011, recently all over the United States, from Philadelphia to Sante Fe, Rochester to Sausalito, CA …. she’s appearing now… to many… to Buddhist monks, small children, people all over the world, families, communities and single women… to unbelievers like my own Grandpa Curry, who saw a “lady all in blue” standing over my mom’s crib when she was a baby and sick with fever. He and my grandma were worried she might die, but he swears he saw the Lady, and fell back asleep feeling peaceful and reassured. The next day, the fever broke and he told my grandma, a devout Catholic, who replied simply, “you’ve seen the Virgin.”
These are not the accounts anyone ever hears about and that never cross the approving “verification” stamps of the Vatican. But that’s the power of the Lady, of Our Mother. None of that official stuff matters to her. All that matters is that we know how much She loves us, that she is helping us, that we can ask her for anything, and that we pay attention.
She seems to be telling us… listen! Feel my love. And curiously, she almost always tells people to pray the rosary…
What is she trying to help us see, and how does the rosary get us there? Could the rosary be another bridge, between body and soul, earth and heaven, something to hold in our hands, to connect with and cling to?
There is an incredible book I read a couple years ago called, “The Way of the Rose.” It’s a book about Mary, and the rosary, by two non-Catholics. Clark Strand, a former Buddhist monk, starts experiencing apparitions of Mary, and she tells him to pray the rosary. The experience transforms him—he and his wife continue to lead rosary groups all over the world.
He writes, “Each Hail Mary follows the course of human life from the inner darkness of the womb to the waiting darkness of the tomb… after which… it begins again. By saying it repeatedly—day after day, year after year—we rehearse the eternal drama of coming and going from this world. Like birds, we sing as the sun rises to welcome the day, and we sing too, as night begins to fall. Gradually, our bodies learn what our minds cannot grasp: There is no time when we are separated from our Mother; there is no place we can go where we are not held in her embrace.”
Mary herself, in a vision, reveals to Clark, “The rosary is My body, and My body is the body of the world. Your body is one with that body. What cause could there be for fear?”
Praying the rosary… connecting with Mary… through the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries wraps us, as we wrap the beads through our fingers, in the natural rhythms of life we cannot escape, the rhythms central to the life of Mary and Jesus—birth, life, suffering, death and ongoing union with eternal love. We remember who we are—created and inextricable parts of creation—dancing the same dance as every other form of created life, at ONE with the whole body of the earth just by being who and what we are—human. Held. Loved into being and continuously sustained by Creation Herself, the Great Cosmic Mother of Life.
This Mother seems desperate to remind us, to help us remember—that we are not alone, that we are an essential part of the web of life, and that all of life is sacred and holy.
When she appeared to a Mexican peasant on an ancient site of the Goddess in 1531, she looked so much like the image of the Great Cosmic Mother in the reading from Revelation we hear today… crowned with stars and moon under her feet. She said to him and to all of us, forever…
Am I not here, who am your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and my protection?
Am I not the source of your joy?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle,
And in the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else that you need?
She seems to want us to tell her what we need—in detail, vulnerably, without holding anything back, to express the desires of our heart at every bead of the rosary. We don’t have to be perfect or appear to have it together, or even be Christian—she waits with open heart and arms for us to just be what we are, perhaps especially in all our imperfection, “stumbling, bumbling and suffering.”
This vulnerability, this offering of ourselves in simple prayer IS a practice of the unity of our own bodies and souls, trusting that all the stuff of our lives, the bodily stuff, matters to the Soul of the World, to the heart of all of Life. To Her, it matters so very much.
How can we, today, recognize her? To re-member ourselves into Her, body and soul?
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of our opening story, writes… “…you will feel the wind, or the sun, or the rain; or a vista, a creature, or an innocent; and suddenly breathe in an enormous breath that feels as though it is an otherworldly compassion breathing you—and this fills the angelic wings of your lungs to the very nth degree, and your spirit will feel suddenly refreshed. Your soul, no longer distressed, but in these moments, at sudden peace. In these cases and more, your Mother, the Great Woman, has hastened to your side in all her fullness, and with all her might.”
I find it interesting that in an institution so bound by rules and regulations—the Roman Catholic Church—there are only two teachings that have been declared “infallible”—that stamp of papal authority that threatens to bind the hearts of the faithful. Yet these two teachings are all about Mary—her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption. Her birth and her death. Somehow, even through thick veils of patriarchy, her immense Love gets through. She points once again to the natural rhythms holding us—birth, life, death and eternity, to our own belonging to Life. Hers is a force that cannot be exiled, because it is here on earth as much as it is in heaven. Hers is a powerful, organic, earthly and embodied love totally FOR us, and for everyone—truly without exception.
I want to close with Her words, given to Clark Strand. Please let them wrap around your hearts in the embrace of the Mother.
“I see the length of you. I know the breadth of you. I carry the depth of you in My body and My soul. Therein you are safe. Many things will change, but this will not change. I have always been your Mother. I have always guided you, even when I walked behind you and stood in the dark of your shadow where you could not see. Even then, I watched over you. I am watching now. I hold within Me all that you are and all that you can be.”
“The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary” by Clark Strand and Perdita Finn
“Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes