Today, I would like to set some homework first. I’d like to encourage everyone today to read a certain poem out loud. That poem is called The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo. It is by the English Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins. Once you have each read it out loud, I would like you then to listen to it, if you can, as read by the Welsh actor Richard Burton. If you search for it on Youtube, you will find it easily. Once you have done those things, perhaps discuss with someone how you think the poem relates to today’s feast, the Solemnity of our Lady’s Assumption. Now, I would like to share what I think.
Something always worth praying about is the word ‘catholic’. As you probably know, the word ‘catholic’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘according to the whole’. It connotes a big picture, a sense of integration. One way of considering this, then, might be to think about how the different moments of a day add up to a life. More especially, how do all the different glorious moments show us what life is really like?
What links, say, the perfect breakfast of bacon and eggs to great sequence of plays in a game of basketball or football? And what links these to falling in love with the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen, or that moment when everyone at a party is on the dancefloor? And what links these to that wonderful sense of exhaustion after exercise or the dancefloor, or to that great joke or memory that makes you laugh every time? Or that great feeling when you realise you are home, surrounded by friends and family? Is there a line that joins up all these dots, big and small? Or are they all just fleeting moments, destined to come and go, their truth lost forever? Can catholicism in its most generic sense be true?
Our feast today of our Lady’s Assumption has something to say to all these questions.
The first thing to say about reflecting on what life means and what it looks like is that we need proper data. One of the modern day clichés is evidence based approaches. If we want to do that with life, we need to look at those who lived life to the full. The Church calls these people saints.
Now the saints tells us a couple of things about life. First, they tell us that all these moments – whether it be a sunset, bacon eggs or a virtuoso performance – all these moments are gifts. Instinctively, we know this is true. No matter what we do, when we experience these moments, we do not feel like we deserve them. We sense that they are beyond our control, they are somehow gifts.
The second thing the saints tell us is that each of these gifts is somehow a revealing of God’s glory. The interesting thing about this is that we see the reality of this in the very lives of the saints themselves. Each saint brings something new into the world. They reveal a new aspect to life, kind of like how a prism can split out the component parts of white light. Each saint is like a new colour that reveals in a new way the source of all colour.
Another way to think about this is how different people have different relationships with the same person, and therefore know different things about that person. If someone was asked about you, he or she would have a different answer to that of your r siblings, or your parents or friends or co-workers.
It is the same with the Saints and Jesus. Each saint has a different relationship with Jesus and so reveals something new about Jesus. However, the line that joins the dots in their lives is that it is always the same Jesus and the relationship is always based on the saint’s experience of God’s love in their lives. Their lives are their way of saying yes to this, yes to him.
Now what is special about Mary is that her Yes is her whole life. In a sense, she is the yes that runs through the Yeses of all the other saints. It is the yes that is one of the foundations of the Church. Moreover, in her we see that when one says Yes to God’s gifts, the gifts are kept safe forever. Her Assumption tells us that all those fleeting moments, all those experiences of God’s grace, though they may seem fleeting, they are actually kept safe, because they are part of our relationship with Christ, Christ who has conquered death.
So, like Mary, we can be confident in the promises that we experience through the many gifts of life, and through the gift of life itself – that promise that God does not take back these gifts, but that when they are accepted fully, they are given forever. As I said at the beginning, that poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo is, I think, a properly beautiful expression of this. With the Resurrection, the Assumption is our retort to death and lies.
So, let us pray today that our Yes to God might be one with our Lady’s, so that everything in our life might be one with Christ. Let us not forget to tell others of this good news, especially those maybe grappling with a sense of futility.