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On the Feast of the Assumption of Mary

By Sr. Doreen, SSJD.

Isaiah 7:10-15; psalm 132: 6-10, 13-14; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 1: 46-55

Mary is the favored one, the beloved in whom God is well pleased – and the one saint that has at least 7 Feasts attached to her name, either directly or because she was intricately involved.
Mary’s birth, the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Incarnation, the Presentation, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and today, the Falling Asleep or Dormition (death)  and her being taken into heaven (assumption):  the feast that we celebrate today.  For me this is a feast day when we have an opportunity to ponder Mary now an old woman, at the end of her earthly life:  and  ponder her in the spirituality of the second half of life.

For all this seeming popularity, Mary is a woman wrapped in silence.  There is very little known about Mary and a great deal that has been said about her; however there remains a hiddenness and solitude about her.  She is a woman of the heart – who treasured and pondered things in her heart.

 In “A Woman Wrapped in Silence” – J. Lynch writes:

And peace
That made its quietness in her was peace
God gave, since she had made a place for it
By tired hands and a heart that did not tire.

A woman wrapped in silence, and the seed
Of silence, the ache of silence
Was her heart that tried to give
All that it had to give, and ever more

And still was here a woman
Wrapped in silence, and the words were closed
Within her spacious heart for pondering.

All that we can say about Mary – forms the rock – the bed rock upon which we stand of our Foundation as a Community – and of our common vocation.  I share a few thoughts for reflection.

Mary is, after the ecumenical council of Ephesis in 431, proclaimed as Theotokos – God-bearer, or Mother of God. 

Mary – a woman of the heart, of silence and prayer, called and chosen, a women of ‘fiat’ and ‘magnificat’, God-bearer to the world – someone we can talk of being like – for she mirrors in us the image and likeness of God that God so wills to be found in us all.  Someone called and chosen, someone of the heart, of silence and prayer, someone who lived in partnership with God, someone who lived discipleship.  Someone of Fiat and Magnificat.

Fiat means quite simply “YES” –

  • Yes to an invitation to trust in God
  • Yes to a call to experience God in deeper ways
  • yes to a call to ponder the Word, to welcome the Word even if we don’t fully understand it, but to sit on the words and wonder about them
  • Yes in the good times and the difficult times
  • Yes in joy and in sorrow

Magnificat is a song of thanksgiving to God for all the wonderful things that God has done for her and is

  • Gratitude as a call to live as spiritual adults
  • Gratitude as a model of love, trust and service
  • Gratitude as a call to mercy and justice, righteousness and peace
  • Gratitude as a challenge to stepping into the unknown future out of trust in God and something that needs to be practiced over and over again throughout life
  • Gratitude as a trust when the way ahead is unknown, or difficult, or painful

A Fiat response to life is also a mystery and is calling out for her and for us all the time. Mary’s fiat I believe was something that she was challenged to repeat throughout her life – daily she renewed her fiat.

A Magnificat response to life – a gratitude response to every aspect of life and death – is also a mystery, to be repeated over and over again throughout life.

Her first fiat at the Annunciation and her first Magnificat at the Visitation to Elizabeth:  Mary’s yes and perplexity at the Annunciation stayed with her I believe throughout her life.  Mary continuing to be puzzled whenever she was confronted by signs and hints of who Jesus was and what he was meant to do.  But she was always patient in her puzzlement;  “ Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart”.

And I share now some of my own ponderings of Mary’s life as she grew older:

What about her fiat and her Magnificat at the time when Joseph died – he too is someone wrapped in silence, very little is known about Joseph.  I share a poem called an Ikon of St Joseph the Worker by our Associate in Victoria, Allison Holt:

Seen at a glance the quiet, complete change of St. Joseph I cannot find words to say that there stands a man who is so completely committed there is no explaining it.
Quiet, he sees a person coming and all he has is finding and unlocking God in that person
Time is not in charge, God is
The same hands which took care that Jesus should not be harmed in the carpenter’s tools while he was learning was the same concern he gave to everyone
He knew that in Gods eyes all are free to be equal and loved by God on earth.

Mary in the midst of loss and grief when Joseph died.  The loss of a loving companionship and partnership, of someone who had protected and loved and always been there – a man open to God whose own fiat throughout his life nurtured the safety and love and trust  that created a real home for both Mary and Jesus.  Joseph gentle and strong.  Joseph compassionate and obedient.  Joseph of great spirit and great faith.  Joseph who listened to the word and who listened in silence.  He is gone, probably sometime during Jesus ministry, but for certain before the Crucifixion when the disciple John takes Mary home with him.  Within the mystery of Mary’s fiat and Mary’s Magnificat at this time, at the loss of beloved Joseph, there is a time for her to weep.  Mary’s lament at Joseph’s death, her fiat and her Magnificat giving voice to her grief and her sorrow, her anxieties … our Oblate Frances Drolet- Smith in her article about Laments said that in life it is important to remember that there is value in the prayers of lament – they shape our relationship with God.  The writings of the prophets and the psalms are filled with laments.

What about her fiat and her Magnificat at the time of her Son’s cruel death on the Cross – when a mother has to be there and to watch while their child dies a cruel death.  The shock and the sadness, the confusion and anger, the tiredness, more tired than one could ever have thought possible from the trauma of it all.  These are some of the things that people whose child has died share.  Within the mystery of Mary’s fiat and Mary’s Magnificat at this time, when her child dies, there is a time to weep.  Mary’s fiat and Magnificat at this time, the death of Jesus, her son, giving voice to her grief and her sorrow.

Joan Chittister writes: “Of all the expressions of human emotion in the lexicon of  life, weeping may be the most functional, the most deeply versatile.  The tears we weep show us our deepest, neediest, most private selves … what we cry about is what we care about … tears give life to the grief of endings, give them dignity and give them honour.  What was , was good.  What is to come is mystery.  Once the tears have been shed that mark the loss then the changes can be made that mark the new beginning. … Every little death we die turns us into something new and washes us up on the sunlit shore of a different psyche, a person called by an old name but unknown even to ourselves.”

Mary, this woman wrapped in silence … the ache of silence that was her heart that tried to give all that it had to give, and ever more.  She followed her son from Galilee to Jerusalem, stood with the others who witnessed his crucifixion, shared in the disciples’ community of prayer and watched with them for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  This woman was a strong woman, perplexed but patient, willing to meet all of life and hope through it all.  Someone whose heart has been broken, whose life is vulnerable, whose love is all encompassing.  People will come to that kind of person for help, people will confide in that kind of a person.  This is how I see Mary in old age – an anawin (someone who has remained faithful to God throughout all that life brings – and – an anam cara (a soul friend and blessing to all those around her).

In For All the Saints:  Mary is honoured because she, a virgin, was the Mother of God – such a wonder that has generated much of the devotion that is paid to her.  Mary is honoured also as the model of all the people of God and the person who leads their praises of God – the model of all true disciples, of all those who hear and obey God’s word.  Mary was a constant presence and touchstone of prayer.  In her we see God’s empowering of human life for partnership with God.

Today we delight in the conviction that she who responded to God’s perplexing call with praise throughout her life, must already enjoy the reward of faith – and that she who gave the Son of God his human life has received all the fullness of the eternal life which he was born to give.

Women wrapped in  Silence

This was a woman wrapped in silence: and the shrine her thoughts made gathered her beyond her exile and enclosed a native place where all she loved could cancel banishment, and hold the votive pleading of her single prayer that asked to be only in that place where he will be,

“To wait him here.  Alone. Alone. A women lonely in the silence and the trust of silence is her heart that did not seek, or cry, or search, but only waited him. 

We have no word of this sweet certainty that hides in her.  There is not granted line writ meagre in the scripture that will tell  … what she keeps within the silence.  This is hers … and all the secrets hid beneath the long years’ long remembering.

.. (we) could find her old with what had passed, and worn with it … and in her old age, her spirit’s new Magnificat that is rejoiced again because he hath regarded her, and  holy is his name.

She was alone, and in her she could feel the flow of time that had begun and would go on, go on, to days, in silence, on and on.  She was a woman now who was alone with time, and in her heart, the wait and ache of time.

I am privileged to live here at the Convent in my own little anchorhold on the first floor called St Mary.   One of the comments that Richard Rohr made in his book “Falling Upward” that has stayed with me, and has often been part of my pondering Mary’s life is the following quote:  “Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of our physical life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite.  What looks like falling can largely be experienced as falling upward and onward, into a broader and deeper world, where the soul has found its fulness, is finally connected to the whole, and lives inside the Big Picture.”

With Mary, her coming to human fullness was through many different life experiences,  difficult experiences – in fact against all odds and personal suffering as well those good blessings that friends and family bring.  So too is this gift held out to us individually and as a community.

TS Eliott “East Cocker” 

Old (people) ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For another union, a deeper communion

The second half of life is a journey and the goal of coming back home.  Today we celebrate Mary’s heavenly birthday – the joy of seeing face to face, even as we look forward to our own.