“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” – Luke 1:28b
Today, you have a reason to feast. August 15th is widely celebrated as the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. That name sounds very Roman Catholic and discordant to protestant sensibilities. But if we make some space, we will find that there is more here than church dogma.
The feast day remembers Mary’s death and celebrates her entrance into eternity. The exact origin of this feast is inconclusive at best. It was practiced by different churches, with different reasons, and at different times throughout the first several hundred years of the church. Then in 1950, Pope Pius XII settled the matter by declaring August 15th as the official date. Yet history comes alive in a special way when we ask, “Why?”
Pius XII served as pope during World War II and spoke out against the inhumanity of the German juggernaut. Throughout the war Pius defended the weak by speaking out against the inhumanity of war and the vicious crimes of war mongers. Pius participated in the covert protection of thousands of Jews in Italy.
In the late 1940s with the horrors of war still fresh in his mind, Pius XII encouraged a renewed study of Mary. He wrote:
“It is to be hoped that from meditation on the glorious example of Mary men may come to realize more and more the value of a human life entirely dedicated to fulfilling the will of the Heavenly Father and to caring for the welfare of others.”
Pius XII hoped that meditating on Mary’s story would lead the faithful to a greater humility. In Mary we see the good of others given priority over the ego of the individual. In Mary is the elevation of God’s universal dream above our limited vision. In Mary we see our shared vulnerability and our potential to affect the broader human family.
The Pope believed that the inner transformation of an individual could bring about the social results that lead to caring for others. War, destruction, and violence were outgrowths of a spiritual sickness and a withered soul. His goal was to see the church transformed in order that it would become agents of peace and messengers of salvation to a world in need of healing.
In that spirit, I invite you to read and reflect on the call of Mary. I’d love to hear what stands out for you as you meditate on her experience.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit, She will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.