My wife watches our nephews twice a week. They are wonderful little guys, full of energy and, of course, curiosity. The older of the two, like many 3-year-olds, loves to ask, “Why?” After he has asked this question more times than the Verizon man asks, “Can you hear me now?” you just offer an exasperated, “Because that is just how it is.” But as we all know, you are immediately met by the innocent and curious, “But why?” As testing as that can be, it should also be reassuring. Our nephew asks Bess and me questions because he gives us the benefit of the doubt. He assumes that we understand something he doesn’t. Today, as we celebrate the Assumption of Mary, I want us to imitate him, because for many of us it is strange that Mary’s Assumption is dogma. The Trinity, the assertion that Christ is fully human and fully God, His real presence in the Eucharist; these are all dogmatic beliefs and it makes sense that they are so important. However, when it comes to Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, a truth definitively and dogmatically affirmed by our faith, many of us ask “Why?”
In seeking out this answer I chose to go straight to the source, Pope Pius XII, who formally defined this dogma on November 1, 1950. His full statement is 48 paragraphs long and one can get overwhelmed by the wordiness of the official Church document. However, I want to offer what I believe is the concise answer found in the document, i.e. ‘the 3-year-old answer.’ I think he would tell a 3-year-old, “The Assumption is so important because it reminds us that Jesus is good; He keeps all of His promises; He lifts us up out of sorrow; He cares for us, body and soul; and He loves His mother.”
Pope Pius XII could have merely said, “It is important, because it is true” in the same way I want to say “because I said so” to my nephew, and while that answer is legitimate, it isn’t satisfactory. To understand why Pope Pius offers us a more satisfactory answer we need to understand the context of when he defined the dogma. It was 1946, just one year after World War II, when he sent letters to all the bishops of the world asking if he should make this dogmatic declaration. It was a time when so many faced unspeakable hardships and such suffering that God’s goodness and promises likely sounded hollow. This was also the era when a overly spiritualized puritanical society was morphing into a materialistic and hedonistic society; no longer rejecting the body outright, but becoming enslaved to it. Additionally, some of the most intense scientific controversies of this day were over our origins, often distracting us from the promises of our future. So it was the right time to remind us.
To remind us that Jesus is good. He keeps all of His promises and in the end will lift us up out of our sorrow. He loves us as persons, body and soul, and upholds the goodness of both. He lifts up a woman, His mother, into heaven with Him, because He loves her. He is the restored Adam, lifting up the restored Eve, reminding us that humanity is incomplete without both men and women. And for all the debating over evolution and origins, Mary’s Assumption is a reminder to not lose our focus on where we are destined.
He is good.
He keeps His promises.
He lifts us up out of sorrow.
He cares for us, body and soul.
He loves His mom.
We dogmatically defend the Assumption because it is true and it reveals truth. It reveals that, even in the face of our wars, our prejudices, our neglect, and our destruction of human dignity, there is still goodness, faithfulness, justice, dignity, and love. We can find these things where the Assumption tells us we find Mary — with Jesus.
To remember this is to remember hope. It is to remember that the dragons have already been defeated (Rev. 12:9) and that her Son already reigns (Rev. 12:5).