Sermon for the Feast of the Assumption 2012
Preached by the Right Reverend Philip Anderson
Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey
Lost City, Oklahoma
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“Signum magnum apparuit in caelo - A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
My very dear sons,
Outside the monastery walls the world is on fire. Political debate occupies the American mind — or what is left of it. Even souls who have more or less given up interest in vying for worldly power are forced to take part in the fray, as serious threats to our freedom as Catholics loom menacingly on the horizon. What does the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, whose Assumption into Heaven we celebrate today, have to say to us? What is her political theory?
Of course, she really has none. Even to speak of 'politics' in her regard is an anachronism and a vain hypothesis. Nevertheless, the political nature of man does not date from yesterday. In Mary's world, the Jews of Palestine suffered from an intolerable subjugation to the Roman Empire. The apostles and disciples understood the implications of this situation, and they looked to the Master, Whom they came to know as the Messiah, for an answer to their longings for a better world, often mistaking His power for a merely temporal one.
Now among these men and women of Palestine who followed Jesus, none would seem less politically inclined than the Blessed Virgin Mary, because none was more humble, less given to any earthly ambitions. She was a pure reference to her Son, in Whom she too - she more than anyone - recognized the true king to come, Christ the King. She may not have thought of it in those specific terms, but the luminous reality was with her. The Blessed Virgin, to sum up, represents the perfect example of what Christ referred to as the "poor in spirit", the anawim of the Hebrew tradition.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3)
And yet, despite her lowly opinion of herself ("Behold the handmaid of the Lord"), God had great plans for her life, plans that she could not ignore. She had to confess as much, under the action of the Holy Ghost, through the words of her Magnificat, as we read in today's Gospel:
"My soul doth magnify the Lord. ... For he hath regarded the humility of his handmaiden. For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done great things unto me, and holy is his name." (Lk. 1:46-49)
In fact, the vocation that was Mary's included a crown: the very symbol of majesty and power that so many worldly men and women have sought in vain.
It is true that Holy Scripture does not directly refer to Our Lady's coronation in Heaven. It is the liturgical and pious traditions of the Church that speak to us of her queenship, which forms the fifth glorious mystery of the Holy Rosary. The actual event in Heaven is not recounted in the Gospel any more than her Assumption into Heaven. There is, however, a major scriptural text that does speak to us of this theme, that is to say the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelations, the Apocalypse:
"And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." (12:1-2)
The fathers and doctors of the Church interpret this passage as representing both the Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The image fits well with the subject of today's feast.
In allowing ourselves to be drawn by the shining example of the Queen of Heaven we are guaranteed to come up on the wiser and truer side of the political debate. By looking upward instead of down at our feet or merely sideways, we are sure to find the right path forward.
But is this view of things not just a bit too "otherworldly?" Are we expected to renounce trying to incorporate authentic Christian principles into the temporal order in which we live, here and now? Is there no hope here below, before the dawning of eternity, to see a certain realization of the Kingdom of God? Indeed, there is. The Church has always maintained that it is good and useful that the laity — rather than priests or religious — bring Christian values into the political arena and into every walk of secular life. Yes, we can strive to impregnate the social tissue with Christian values. This is good and quite necessary, as long as we remember that this temporal order will perish, that the figure of this world passes away.
In a recent message to the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, warned of the "unprecedented gravity" of threats to religious freedom for Catholics in the United States. While praising the American tradition of freedom — especially religious freedom — he underlined "the responsibility of each new generation to preserve, defend and advance those great ideals in its own day.
"At a time," he said, "when concerted efforts are being made to redefine and restrict the exercise of the right to religious freedom," the Knights must "counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church's participation in public debate."
In a healthier society there would be no need to call for "religious freedom," since protecting the interests of the Church would be seen as the very first duty and strict obligation of the civil authorities. The onus should be on the government to do its duty to God, rather than on the Christians to stand up for their "rights". We have come to a sorry state of things, but it is well to recognize the reality of it all.
As monks we have the privilege of not having to be especially concerned about the temporal order at all. Having renounced the world in a more literal manner than other Christians, we are more free to pursue the Kingdom of Heaven, already in our station here below, without needing to join in political controversies and power struggles. Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, we look to the realization of the divine politics of the Magnificat:
"He hath shown might in his arm, he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their hearts, he hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble; he hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away." (Lk. 1: 51-53)
May the glorious Queen of Heaven, whom the angels greet today with ineffable songs of love, look down with kindness and pity upon our difficult times. In fact, she not only casts her eyes our way, but beckons us to raise our hearts and minds above the noise and confusion of this "crumbling pageant" of the world, to the place where, already, a new order is taking the place of the old.
“And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” (Apoc. 21:5).