As the end of October draws near and we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, we reflect upon the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary that remind us of what God has in store for us beyond this life and this world. We hope you can join us for this final part in our series, Praying the Rosary in October, as we explore in depth the beauty of each Glorious Mystery.
The world is coming to a place like the world into which Our Lord was born. Politicians were not “for the people” then, they were capricious and dangerous. Babies were killed en masse when a child said to be king was born. The main roads into town were lined with hanging corpses. A man ruled innocent was killed anyway, tortured, because the mob wanted him dead.
It was into a world like ours that Jesus was born.
It was a world like ours, with all its sin and fears and horror, that he took on his shoulders so it could be nailed to a cross.
And it was a world like ours that woke up on the third day to the startling, amazing news that none of the horror of the preceding days had any permanent power at all.
St. Paul gives us these words:
Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).
Meditate on that today. Plant it in your heart, allow its truth to soak into your soul:
You were raised with Christ — Already. Through baptism into his death, “you have died” already. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Nothing any man can do to you or yours can change that fact.
Seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God — The right hand of God is his throne. He is ruling now, he is bringing all things under his feet. He became like us and died so he could “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Hebrews 2:15). If that describes you, afraid of death, afraid of sorrow and pain to the point of bondage: you have been freed!
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth — Don’t obsess over bad news, over a world that seems to be spinning out of control. Instead, rejoice! The Lord is near. He’s not a dead first century prophet we revere in memory; he is a living source of hope. Take your mind off the things of this world and set it on the One who is a still point above the chaos. Allow him to reset your perspective, to help you see the reality behind the circumstances. Tyrants will always be with us. They will rage against the good and good people will be caught up in their terror. But God, in Christ, has turned even the worst they can do, into the door to eternal life and glory.
St. Peter wrote to “exiles in the dispersion”—Christians dispersed throughout the Roman world who were subject to ongoing persecution—of the “living hope” we have because of the Resurrection:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7).
…He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
When we recite this line in the Creed at Mass, it may simply seem like a tidy but not especially important bookend to the more important doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection.
We may be tempted to think the Ascension is a “second-tier” event. If so, we are out of step with the New Testament writers and some of the Church’s greatest theologians.
St. Luke thought the Ascension was so important that the event served not only as the fitting climax to Jesus’ victory over sin and death in his Gospel, but is retold again at the beginning of the Church’s story in Acts (Luke 24; Acts 1).
In an ancient homily, St. Augustine pointedly said “unless the Savior had ascended into heaven, his Nativity would have come to nothing … and his Passion would have borne no fruit for us, and his most holy Resurrection would have been useless.” Let’s look at four reasons why the Ascension is so important to us:
- The Ascension gives us access to our Heavenly Father’s house and our eternal happiness. “Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 661; John 14:2)
- As it did for his first disciples, the Ascension is intended to produce joy and worshipful obedience in the lives of Christ’s disciples. Since Christ is reigning at the right hand of his Father over his kingdom, we joyfully work to spread that reign within us and around us (CCC, 669, Luke 24:52-53).
- The Ascension means that Christ and his Father could now send the Holy Spirit to fully reveal the Trinity, to guide the Church into all truth, and to unite us to Christ’s mission, “if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7, 13; CCC, 690, 737).
- Finally, the Ascension is a source of daily hope because it reminds us that Jesus is coming back again, the same way he departed, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b). His return will mean the final triumph of good over evil, a new heaven and a new earth. “That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ’s return by saying to him: Marana tha! “Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:17, 20).
The Descent of the Holy Spirit
The story of Pentecost is familiar and it should be. We need to know the story. Pentecost changes everything. In a moment the entire order of humanity changes. Beloved creatures become not just creatures, but instead children of the loving Father. It is through the Spirit that we cry “Abba!” (Romans 8:15). In that moment God, the living God, comes to inhabit human creatures.
Marvel at that!
It is not the idea of God, or a sliver of God, but the real presence of the Living God. The Spirit is God, like the Father is God, like the Son is God. On Pentecost the Spirit invades creation in a new way. The Almighty comes to inhabit our human flesh! He does not do it secretly or gradually. He overwhelms.
Place yourself in the story. It might be helpful to open your Bible to Acts 2:1-4. It is a dramatic scene. The Apostles are gathered together in one place and suddenly from heaven there is a sound “like the rush of a mighty wind.” It does not start as a whisper, or as a gentle breeze. It is not gradual. Scripture says “Suddenly.” The Hebrew word for spirit, ruah, translates to wind or breath. In Pentecost the ruah of God exploded into reality, filling the room with the sound of a hurricane. It is possible the Apostles, upon hearing the wind, immediately associated this with the Spirit, but—ready or not—there must have been a certain amount of terror.
As if the wind was not enough there then appears “tongues as of fire.” Note, Scripture does not relate to us “flames as those on a candle.” A tongue of fire cannot be found on a candle. The flame is too small. A tongue of fire describes how flames leap out of a bonfire and lick the air. Watch a large fire and you will see that it has a certain wild, unruly danger to it. These tongues of fire do not safely appear in the midst of them, but instead are found “distributed and resting on each one of them.” The Holy Spirit is not distant. His fire is not to warm us from the outside but comes directly to us.
Awe, or fear of the Lord, is one of the gifts we associate with the sacrament of confirmation. It is not an abstract thing. It is not an intellectual concept. Awe is the natural state when a person encounters the living God. In that moment it was definitely anything but abstract to the apostles. Even if they understood immediately that this was the presence of God I do not think that would take away the incredible awe. In this moment the Lord reveals that his Holy Spirit is not a tame force. It is wild and unpredictable. It is also clear that this is not a little portion of the Holy Spirit that is being poured out, but that instead it is an overwhelming release of the Holy Spirit.
The story of Pentecost is there for a reason. God wants us to know that he is with us, and that his presence in our lives is not a small portion. It is his fullness, his awe-inspiring, world-shattering fullness.
Considering what we learn of the Holy Spirit through the story of Pentecost, the challenge for the modern Christian is this: Do I believe this same, terrifying, powerful Holy Spirit still resides in the Church? Do I believe the Holy Spirit resides in me? Will I allow the Holy Spirit lordship in my life so that I can encounter and experience awe? Will I invite God to be dangerous and uncontrollable in my life?
The Holy Spirit is God. He can not pretend to be anything else. Unless we will give the Lord permission to be who he is, Lord of our lives, Pentecost will be just a wonderful story. When we give him permission, it becomes our reality.
This great mystery in the Catholic Faith that showcases the deep love of God toward his creation—Mary being taken to heaven body and soul—is a foretaste of what God also has in store for us.
There are places that traditionally mark Mary’s assumption both in Jerusalem and in Ephesus. From the Scriptures we do not learn about the end of Mary’s life or that of many of Christ’s apostles, but we do know through what has been passed on to us through tradition about the martyrdoms of many of them. Had Mary been a martyr, there would be a tomb and shrine associated with that location as there are for other apostles, but in the case of Mary, there is no tomb to be found. (There is a place in Jerusalem called the Tomb of Mary, but this spot commemorates her falling asleep and does not contain any bodily remains.) The end of Mary’s life was different than all others and gives the faithful hope of good things to come.
Interestingly, there are other instances in the Bible of people passing from this earthly life to the next in an atypical fashion. Besides Jesus, there are at least nine instances in the Bible of people being raised from the dead including Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, Widow of Zeraphath’s son, the Widow of Nain’s son and Tabitha. All of these people went through physical death.
However, there are two other unusual instances in the Old Testament, Enoch and Elijah, in which they were taken to heaven without dying first. In the first instance of Enoch, when he was 365 years old, the Bible tells us in Genesis 5:24 that “he was not, for God took him.” And then in the instance of Elijah the Prophet, at the end of his ministry, he was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot witnessed by the Prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 2:11. In both of these instances and also in the case of the assumption of Mary, the person was faithful to God. Mary was more faithful to following God than any other created person, so is it any wonder that the end of her earthly life was rewarded by her assumption to heaven body and soul? She goes before us in Faith and also as a first fruit of the Resurrection, of which all the faithful will experience at the end of time (1 Corinthians 15:20-21).
The assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a sign for us as to what is in store for those who stay faithful to her Son Jesus Christ. I hopefully look forward to that wonderful moment when I am able to experience the joy of the Resurrection and see firsthand the beautiful world where Mary, my Mother dwells, who has faithfully interceded for me and all her children since she entered the eternal kingdom, crowned Queen of Heaven.
The Coronation of Mary
Revelation 12:1-6 gives us great insight into the honor Christ has given his mother. A sign appears in the heavens! A woman crowned with twelve stars and adorned with the sun. She stands on the moon, about to give birth to a male child. A son “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.”
In all of human history no woman has ever been granted so much honor as Mary. It is fitting to see her adorned with a crown. God chose her alone to be his mother. This is not merely a biological relationship. Christ was subject to Mary as a son is subject to his mother. The Lord of all creation made himself subject to the authority of Mary. She truly is Jesus’ mom.
Jesus is the heir to the throne of David. In the Davidic kingdom, the king’s mother held a special place of honor. She was the Gebirah, or Queen Mother. She held great esteem, honored not only by her son, but by the entire kingdom. In her turn, the queen mother acted as an advocate for the people, bringing petition to her son, but never usurping his authority. We can see an example of this through Bathsheba in the court of her son Solomon (1 Kings 2:19-23). Solomon, the king, honors his mother. He bows to her and has her seated at his right. She makes her request, but ultimately it is the king’s authority that rules. Jesus is the heir to the throne that Solomon sat on. As Bathsheba was Queen Mother to Solomon, in Revelation 12 we see Mary revealed as Queen Mother to Christ.
By better understanding the honor Christ gives his mother we better understand the honor we should give her. Mary is not just another holy woman. She is Gebirah. She is Queen Mother. It is an honor Jesus gives her. It is also a gift he gives us. Mary, as Queen Mother, is an advocate for us. It is a role Christ has given her. Do not be afraid to go to her. Do not be afraid to honor her as Queen Mother. In doing so you glorify Christ by imitating him and accepting the gift he has given us in Mary.
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