Needs or Wants
Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, Body and Soul, Into Heaven
It is easy for us to get caught up in our needs and wants and to confuse the two. A feast day like today helps us to distinguish and to get a better perspective on our lives. Jeff Bezos just went to space and had a change of perspective. He called seeing the earth from space an “overview effect.” Looking at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into heaven, can give us the same overview effect for our earthly lives. All of us, since Original Sin committed by Adam and Eve, are destined for death. Our hearts will stop pumping. Our lungs will start breathing. We will die. Our bodies will cease to house our souls and we will be dead. It is part of the human experience. As painful as it may be to accept, we cannot get around it. Today, we celebrate somebody who did. Mary never suffered death the same way that we will. Theologians are divided about whether she “died” or not, but in any case, it was much different from what we will experience in death.
We can be sure, however, that Mary was able to end her earthly life with a sense of accomplishment. She had been given a great task in the work of redemption and she played her part beautifully. Today, we celebrate her and recall our own role in this same work of redemption.
We can get bogged down in the details of ordinary life. We have “needs” in modern life that would have been considered great luxuries in the past, or even now in another part of the world. We cannot imagine leaving our homes without our smartphones in hand. Without it, we feel naked, vulnerable, and insecure. We have a long day at work and feel that we “need” a Coca Cola to refresh ourselves and hit reset on our emotional bank account. But here is another need that really boils down to a “want.” One of the great things I admire in Mary is that she treated “needs” as “needs” and “wants” as “wants.” It leads to a greater level of satisfaction in life.
We are all headed for heaven. Whether we make it there or not depends a lot on us. Mary knew that she was headed for heaven. As a young girl, she prayed as all Jewish young women for the grace of graces. She wanted to be the mother of the Savior. Yet, she did not know she would be chosen until the Angel Gabriel appeared to her and gave her the message all creation was awaiting to arrive. “Blessed is she among women,” as the angel declared, but much more blessed are we because of her generous response. She could have wanted to do a million things with her life, but she felt a profound need to fulfill God’s will over her.
Mary prefigures our future existence. We are called to be in heaven in complete happiness with God. Visiting cemeteries can be sad. We do not want to think about our bodies trapped in coffins six feet below the surface. Mary shows us that one day, our bodies will be reunited to our souls in heaven. She entered triumphantly in heaven, and like Jesus, she prepares for our arrival. We will not be prey to death forever. It is so hard to lose a loved one. Just a few days ago, I lost a dear priest friend, and the pain was so real; so vivid; even though he had led a full life and I am sure he is receiving his reward from God. Nevertheless, it was so hard to let go. Mary’s assumption, body, and soul, reminds us that we have a lot to look forward to in heaven. There, “every tear will be wiped away.” (cf. Rev. 21:4)
Victorinus of Pettau writes about the first reading that “The temple opened is a manifestation of our Lord. For the temple of God is the Son, as He Himself says: ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ And when the Jews said, ‘Forty and six years was this temple in building,’ the evangelist says, ‘He spoke of the temple of His body.’” The word used here is not the usual word for “temple,” which is hieron, but rather naos, which refers specifically to the sanctuary. It is the heart of the Temple that is opening up in this amazing vision. It is a renewal of the heart that leads to the beauty of the Assumption.
We can get trapped by wants. As religious, our vow of poverty is an effort to free us from the mindless seeking after earthly pleasures. We will not be happier to the degree that we have more things, but rather to the degree that we are free from material things in order to possess Christ. Mary was free from concupiscence and thus was open to receive the joys of heaven. We are called to go into our interior, to look inside and find our hearts. Only God can be found in our heart of hearts if we want to be truly happy. This is the gift of poverty that God gives us in religious life.
“Poverty proclaims that God is man's only real treasure. When poverty is lived according to the example of Christ who, ‘though he was rich ... became poor’ (2 Cor 8:9), it becomes an expression of that total gift of self which the three Divine Persons make to one another.” (Pope John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 21) Today, Mary assumed into heaven invites us to review our material possessions and to turn our minds and hearts towards heaven.
 Victorinus of Pettau. (1886). Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), R. E. Wallis (Trans.), Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies (Vol. 7, p. 355). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.