Today Catholics Celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. We believe that the mother of Jesus, Mary, was assumed into heaven body and soul. While this teaching is not in the Bible, it has been handed down from the beginnings of Christianity and is part of our sacred tradition. I wrote (or rather I believe I was given by the Holy Spirit) the following essay two years ago, and it was published in my diocesan newspaper. As I re-read it today, the feelings it evoked are just as powerful.
The Assumption and Motherly Love
My mother died a few days after Christmas in 2008, and I miss her very much. Since that time, I think often about the love and loss shared by Mary and Jesus in their relationship as mother and son. As a result, Mary’s assumption into heaven has taken on a profound meaning for me.
After several years of declining health and energy, my mother spent her last six months in pain, struggling for every breath and relied on others to help with her most basic needs. My mother’s body, that of an athlete in her younger years, bearer of five children, and an instrument of countless deeds of charity throughout her life, had wasted away and failed her.
I accept her death as the beginning of her eternal life, and believe that her soul is with our loving Father in heaven. There have even been times when I’ve “felt” her presence, knowing that the love and care she has for me didn’t die when she did.
But, I still miss her physical presence in the midst of my life. I miss her cooking and her homemade butterscotch sauce, her hugs and kisses, and holding her hand. I miss calling her with the latest family news and the lively political discussions she had with my husband. I miss her down-to-earth wisdom and her interpretation of the current events in my hometown, all punctuated by either nods of approval or eye-rolls. I even miss the narrowing of her eyes, jutting of her chin, and the quick bark of “Mary” when she didn’t quite of approve of something I said or did, usually regarding my children, her grandchildren.
After my mother’s death, I found myself thinking more and more and about the assumption of Mary. Before Mom died, I focused on the assumption as a special reward for Mary. By God’s gift, she was conceived without original sin, and as “full of grace,” gave herself completely to God’s will throughout her life. God rewarded this total fidelity by saving her from the corruption of the grave and gave her a “head start” on her eternal state, body and soul united.
Now, for me, the assumption has become a window into the heart of Jesus. Jesus longs to be with us eternally so much that he died for us, but his death did more than offer salvation for our souls. Catholicism teaches us that this salvation includes our bodies as well. We will enjoy heavenly eternity in the new Jerusalem as physical beings.
When he ascended into heaven, Jesus preceded us in this state. As a man like us in all things but sin, did Jesus too long for the physical presence and companionship of his mother? In heaven, Jesus experienced of the physical separation of the person who made his life possible, lovingly cared for him, guided him, and supported him even when she didn’t quite understand what he was up to. Did Jesus miss hugging his mother and holding her hand? Is the assumption also about Jesus wanting to bring Mary into her eternal state to join him as soon as her earthly life was over?
In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus uses the rejoicing of a father over the return of a wayward son to explain how God longs for our conversion: “He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The assumption is also a celebration of the end of separation; the joyous reunion of a mother and son, separated for some years but now united totally, not only spiritually, in the same physical company forever. What great joy Jesus must have felt when he met his mother face-to-face. I find it easy to picture them running toward each other, crying and rejoicing that they would never again be apart.Through the death of my mother, I know there is no earthly love or comfort that can compensate for this loss. The pain of the separation can only be offered to God as a sacrifice and accepted as a cross, the consequences of original sin. The assumption reminds us that Jesus understands this longing and that we have been promised eternal companionship, not only with him, but also with our beloved family members who have died in his grace.