(Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., preached this homily Aug. 14 in St. Mary Church, Colts Neck, where he celebrated the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Our Lady of the Assumption. Following the Mass, Bishop O’Connell blessed the parish’s new outdoor prayer garden and newly restored Marian Grotto.)
It is hard to conceive or imagine a perfect human being: a person without flaws or defects; a person who has no faults or imperfections. At the same time, it is easy to identify things that are wrong with another, things that another person lacks. We do it all the time. We might easily say he is not smart, she is not beautiful, he or she has no talent for this or that.
In order to define perfection in a human being or, conversely, imperfection, we need to have something/someone to compare it to or with. If it is true that no one is perfect or, on the other hand, that everyone has faults, how do we make those judgments? Perhaps evaluating human life can only be a matter of measuring more or less. He is smarter than the next guy and can use his intellectual abilities in a better, fuller way. She is prettier than the woman next to her; her face, her hair, her shape or size is more attractive than someone else. He or she is more talented, more gifted, more resourceful. Having more of some quality does not, in itself, however, make a person good. Not having or possessing that same quality does not, in itself, make a person bad. Goodness or its opposite depends upon what we do with what we have and what we are.
We human beings are all created by God. We are made in God's image. And God, alone, is perfection, all good, without limit or flaw. And we spend our lives as human beings trying to bring that image to fulfillment in our own particular circumstances, imperfect as they may be.
We gather tonight to celebrate the exception to the rule, the only human being who comes as close as any human being to the image of God in which she was created and made: Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Mother of the Church, our Mother. Mary was not, is not God, as some religions accuse us of believing, no. She was fully, completely and perfectly human. In fact, she was so perfect in her humanity, that when her life on earth was finished, God, her creator --- our creator --- took her body and soul completely back to himself from this world, leaving behind only her memory; her example; her virtue; the grace of her existence. We call this action of God toward the Blessed Mother, the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. And after the birth and life and death and Resurrection and Ascension and Pentecost of her Son, the Lord Jesus, who alone is fully human and fully divine, the Assumption of Mary stands as the greatest event of human history and the greatest expression of our faith in human possibility.
Our Catholic Church, established by her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is so convinced of the fact of the Assumption of Mary, that it is one of only two infallible truths proclaimed by the Church, the other one being her Immaculate Conception, that she was conceived without sin that has touched every human being. She has revealed the image of God more closely, more perfectly than any other created being. And, so, the Church celebrates her with highest honor: her conception, her life, her maternity and her physical return to God at the Assumption.
Can our minds conceive of this, grasp this? No. It is a fact of our faith, belief without proof. Mary is our incentive, our motivation to turn our humanness into all that God intended it to be, created it to be. Her goodness and perfection are not only qualities for our memory, our admiration and inspiration but also for our imitation as much as humanly possible: her faith, her humility, her docility, her constancy, her unconditional love. Mary, at her Assumption, like her Son, the Lord Jesus at his Ascension, left the limits of our physical world behind, but did not leave us. She remains in our hearts, along with the Son she bore, as our Mother, loving us, mindful of us, encouraging us, praying for us to follow her, now and at the hour of our death. Amen