Bottom line: Of all creatures we are most grateful for Mary. She points to her Son Jesus - the one way to happiness that lasts.
This Sunday we celebrate the Assumption of Mary and this is also the concluding homily in our summer series of gratitude. As we will see Mary, in midst of of so many sorrows, shows how we can live a life of gratitude - and thus attain happiness.
To explain this, I'd will use the "Hail, Holy Queen" prayer. Many of you know it. It starts on a somber note: "Hail Holy Queen...to thee do we cry poor banished children of Eve." On account of sin, we have been banished from paradise. As the prayer says, we are "mourning and weeping in this valley of tears." This is similar to the teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha's "First Noble Truth" states that the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death is inevitable. In the Bible, Ecclesiastes saw something similar, "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity." Remember how we talked about children born with a little cloud over their head. God bless them, they remind us that this life is not what it's meant to be.
Originally, we were made for paradise and even though we have been banished we keep trying to create heaven on earth. The Soviets tried to create a "workers paradise". It quickly became hell on earth. We dream about some perfect day in the future. When the day arrives, it usually disappoints. Once I talked with a bride on the morning of her wedding day. They had spent a year planning the event. "I can hardly wait," she said, "for all this to be over." Silence followed, then I looked at her, touched her shoulder and said, "Big smile. You can do it."
In best moments, a puzzling sadness can come over us. The book of Proverbs says, "Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief." (14:13) In the Hail Holy Queen, we acknowledge that we live in a "valley of tears." The people we love die. The projects we work on, they often go awry. Mary shows us the way through these trials. She was facing a difficult pregnancy which led to unjust accusations, Yet she says, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." This gratitude leads to profound happiness. To understand it we have to distinguish the levels of happiness:
Level 1 is sensual pleasure - that steaming bowl of linguini. It's great but it lasts only a few moments. Level 2 is some achievement that sets a person apart from others. In the sixties I was winning quarterback for the Stanwood Spartans. Not really, but even if I was, how many people would care today? Level 3 is better. Its happiness comes from service to others. Even that happiness disappoints. Dr. Charles Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic, treated hundreds of patients, saving the lives of many. Eventually, however, they all died. Service to others brings genuine happiness (and is part of one's eternal salvation). Still, in the end it disappoints. We humans are weak, fragile and flawed.
Thanks be to God there is a fourth level of happiness. It is based on the things that transcend this world, namely, goodness, truth and beauty. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." He enables us to have a relationship with God who is perfect goodness, truth and beauty. We can see level 4 happiness in Mary. She is God's most perfect creature. She embodies goodness, truth and beauty. In the Hail Holy Queen prayer we call her "Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope." This does not take away anything from God. In fact, it glorifies him.
A young man might say to his beloved, "I adore you. You are the most beautiful. You are my life." We don't say, "Stop. You are worshipping an idol." No, we know he is seeing a glimpse of the divine. Soon enough, he will know she is a fellow human being, not a goddess. Their relationship will last if they come to God together. That's what Mary wants for us. So we say, "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
That's a good prayer as we reach the conclusion of our summer series on gratitude. We've seen that in midst of trials, we can live lives of gratitude. Join me next Sunday in expressing gratitude for 50 years of priesthood. Despite being a weak, sinful man, God has given me grace to find happiness in this call. Next weekend I'll tell you how God called me.
For today we have seen that even though we constantly try to create paradise on earth, happiness eludes us. We mourn and weep in this valley of tears. Of all creatures we are most grateful for Mary. She points to her Son Jesus - the one way to happiness that lasts. So we pray, "After this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus." Amen.
From Archives (Homily for Assumption):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
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