Happy feast of the Assumption, everyone! This is a great feast in Madonna House, and in the Church at large, of course. I will have more to say tomorrow about how we celebrate this day here.
For now, I provide for your reading pleasure a somewhat longer than usual excerpt from my book The Air We Breathe, precisely on the mystery of the Assumption and the joy it brings to the world. So here, below the break, it is:
The quality of Marian joy is shot through all of Catherine’s writings. Mary is the one who communicates to us that the path of Christ, the way of the Cross, the path of surrender, obedience, dispossession, detachment, death to self–all of those words that seem so daunting and unattractive to us–in truth leads to eternal joy and glory. And this eternal joy which will only be ours in heaven already begins to stir within us in our earthly lives.
Our following of Christ, whatever suffering or burden it may entail upon us, always has a note of joy in it, faint and frail as it may be at times, and this note grows stronger in our lives as his grace in us increases. Mary’s presence helps us in this. She herself brings us joy and she holds before us always the overwhelmingly joyful quality of the Christian religion.
Catherine connects Mary and joy most especially in the feast of the Assumption. Mary’s own complete entry, body and soul, into the perfect joy of heaven makes her an icon of joy and victory for all Christians. Mary the human creature is unique among creatures in perfectly walking the path of God in the world, and so she alone shows us that this path is, for us, the true path of life and beauty. Catherine reflects on this often. For example:
At the moment of my death I shall see and faith will become a reality! That is why it will disappear! For there will be no need to speculate in any way. The folded wings will unfold and I shall shout, "Allelu! Allelu! Allelu! I know what death is… On death I shall burst open, as it were, as a ripe fruit… and the reality of the Triune God, especially Christ, will be mine. And I will know that death is life, because Christ conquered it. And somewhere on the side, the Mother of man who is also the Mother of God, and who long ago woke up from her sleep, will put out her hand and say, "You see where dispossession brought you? It brought you to the possession of the Trinity, of Love."[i]
Catherine loved to meditate on the event of Mary’s assumption, which no human eyes witnessed. She calls August a “month of mystery… of light and joy, yet hidden, at an immense depth, and un-revealed to the mortal eyes of man… in which Heaven saw its gentle immaculate Queen crowned.”[ii] She wonders if Mary was taken up on a night “full of strange light... studded with the stars of the universe, reflecting the translucent light of a full moon? Or was it dawn in all its glory that saw Her assumed into Heaven? No one saw… No one was there but Faith…which sees without seeing.”[iii]
Her poetic imagination is at work here for a purpose. Catherine did not simply paint word pictures for their own sake, or as an exercise in idle speculation. In meditating on the physical fact of Mary’s bodily Assumption to heaven, the event by which “Earth’s most beautiful, immaculate, perfect daughter knew not the darkness of the grave, nor the touch of dissolution or decay,”[iv] Catherine is drawing her readers’ minds and hearts to an urgent truth. Mary’s assumption reveals to us the true trajectory of human life, the purpose for which God created the human race. Why are we here? Where is our life is going, if we choose to cooperate with our Maker? Mary assumed to heaven is the answer to this.
In the modern world, where secularism has driven the hope of heaven from the hearts of so many, and even from the conscious concern of many believers, this meditation on Mary is a welcome corrective:
Do we meditate enough on this glorious, joyous mystery? How we need to do just that, we whose generation and times hold so many orphaned souls… who are children of twilights and wars, who live in the shadowy land of a thousand fears… who stand in such desperate need of wisdom to guide us on a straight course…”[v]
Mary assumed into heaven sets us precisely on this straight course by showing us that our destiny is love and joy. And, as Mary’s Assumption is a feast “of love, of reunion, of joy, of gladness,” Catherine also sees it as spurring us on to evangelical zeal:
Who beholding the ‘death’ of Mary does not think of her life? And who, thinking of this, does not want to arise and go preaching the Gospel of her Son, the gospel of love for Him? That love must spill itself into each life, change it, and go on spilling, even overflowing on one’s neighbor, on the world.[vi]
This love, for Catherine, is synonymous with another Marian concept, namely “the ability to be pregnant with God.”[vii] Love is from God and, as Catherine loved to quote, “God is Love.” (1 John 4:16). To love is to have God living in us, and this is what she means by being pregnant with God. “It wasn’t Mary alone who was pregnant with him… At Baptism our soul, or our heart as we say, is opened to becoming pregnant with God.”[viii]
This image is important to Catherine not simply because of its vividness and Marian reference. It is a vital image in her writings because “we’re small, we’re little, we don’t understand much but… pregnancy means growth.”[ix] In other words, love starts small in us. We begin to live the Gospel very imperfectly and with many mistakes. There is much we do not understand, and much that we initially cannot embrace concerning the heights and depths of following Christ. But as Christ grows in us, our hearts become bigger. “We have to have an open heart, a wide heart, an immense heart, to give him room to grow, for God needs room.”[x]
Here again the theme of joy is not distant. It is in this very context of love growing, our hearts growing and becoming bigger to welcome Christ and his love into our being, that Catherine bursts out in ecstasy:
I was thinking of that and suddenly it seemed to me that the house was filled with music, and my heart was like a floor and all the people he brought in: the lame, the halt and the blind and the crippled and the well and the young and the old, all were dancing for the tune was such that you couldn’t stop! And I suddenly thought to myself, to become pregnant with Christ is to be free and to be joyous. It’s to be open because when you become a dancing floor, surely it’s as open as a floor is.[xi]
Love means breaking through to openness and acceptance of everyone. It finally puts an end to our whole dreary project of attempting to control life, ourselves and other people: “People get all muddled. They think that they have to… manipulate. I want to manipulate myself. I want to be able to close the door and open it when I want to… The pregnancy of Christ—I don’t want to be pregnant.”[xii]
The answer for Catherine always comes with radiant simplicity: “Look, this is your head, my head… Be simple. Stop these complications. You don’t have to be complex. Complexity is going to get you nowhere. Be a dancing floor… Oh, so many beautiful things happen when you believe in God.”[xiii]
[i] Transcript, Mass Preparation, August 14, 1972.
[ii] “Where Love is, God is,” in Restoration, August, 1954.
[vi] “The B’s Corner,” in Restoration, August, 1951.
[vii] “Pregnant With God,” in Restoration, December, 1978.
[ix] Ibid. Emphasis in original.