Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
So bitter is it, death is little more…
Dante’s opening to his epic Divine Comedy … it’s something of a spiritual autobiography, but it’s also an every man’s tale of rediscovering hope.
What does hope look like? Today’s Solemnity of the Assumption offers us a useful key to perceiving, understanding, and touching hope. Like Dante we discover through today’s feast that hope springs first and foremost from the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But Christ’s resurrected glory is so astonishing… so beautiful mere human faculties cannot fully embrace it… they can only know it’s real and stand in awe. Like Moses before the face of God, we cannot look him in the eye… we can only bask in the radiance as he passes by… and even this leaves us changed, radiant forever.
But thanks be to God in Christ Jesus – his hope… our hope cascades from the unapproachable empyrean into the realm of things we might dare to touch and that might even embrace us…
Because in light of what her Son would one day do, Mary was preserved from sin… From the first moment of her earthly existence she was defined by hope. As a result of this, when her earthly life ended Mary was assumed into heaven… again a vehicle of hope… where our queen has lead we know… we hope… we may one day follow.
Revelation confirms and enshrines this historical reality. She reigns now with Christ, enthroned, the moon at her feet, 12 stars crowning her.
But if Mary, the vehicle of our hope… one who is like us and has gone before us into the heavenly homeland… if Mary’s assumption permanently secluded her in heaven, our hope would remain still distant… and this in the midst of the Church’s ongoing spiritual combat on earth. Thanks be to God… His gift of hope does not stop with her… the cascade flows further… The ancient hymn of the Church for this feast points the direction:
O woman who subdues hell and death,
From the side of Christ, eagerly watching over us;
Heaven and earth glorifies
Their mighty queen.
But the terrible serpent persists
In threatening the people now given to thee;
Merciful Mother, come to our aid,
And break the necks of the malignant.
Protect the followers of the divinely inspired faith;
Lead those who go astray back to the holy sheepfold:
And what mother… hearing the cries of her children could remain in heavenly seclusion. Throughout history Our Lady continually appears two us in two ways… each allowing us to touch hope on earth:
She literally appears to us: At Carmel, at Pompeii, at Knock, Lourdes, Fatima, Guadeloupe, LaVang… even now in Michigan at our Lady of Good Help…and innumerable other places. Hope has not left us… one like us appears to us from her heavenly throne that we might touch hope through our faith…
But that’s still not the end because Our Lord did not come to heal the healthy… to give hope only to those who were already people of faith… he leaves a door open for all people to come through him beginning even with their human faculties…
And so hope cascades… from our Lord in unapproachable light… to our Assumed Lady who leads the way… to her apparitions so dear to people of faith… to her blessed daughters in consecrated life throughout the history of the Church… who we have known, seen, heard, touched. And Among these I’d like to touch hope in just a few… not just the existence of hope… but also the how… the how of how they teach us to live hope:
St. Hildegard von Bingen – the medieval abbess, prophet, visionary, musician, and apothecary.
St. Catherine of Siena – a genius of spiritual theology and church reform.
St. Therese of Lisieux – the tiniest spiritual giant who ever lived.
And finally… dare I say… Mother Angelica of Birmingham Alabama.
A mighty abbess, a lay-dominican, a humble Carmelite, and a simple nun who wanted to spread Jesus’ Eternal Word: What did they all have in common… what can we learn about the transmission of hope?
First – hope isn’t based on earthly circumstances… they knew it was based on a firm relationship with Jesus Christ… and so hope can never be defeated…
Second this relationship must be nuptial… whether through marriage or vowed celibate life, or baptismal chastity… the Church manifests hope to her neighbors through healthy nuptial self-sacrifice of Jesus Loving his Church and the Church pouring herself out for him.
Third – hope comes from courageous prophetic witness… sometimes that prophecy manifests in spit-fire preaching… but more often through the courage to quietly experience an inner death and hand that up to God as a worthy sacrifice. Sacrificium Dei spiritus contribulatus…
Finally – It is not enough – even in charity – to point out the world’s failings or the Church’s… though we MUST. For Hope to spread we MUST be DOERS of the word… they must see us joyful… they must see us peaceful… they must see us loving… A lifetime of good and humble works gave Hildegard the credibility to stop wars before they could start with a single word… a lifetime of perseverance in good gave Catherine the credibility to humble cardinals and even the Pope himself into admitting they were wrong… a lifetime of quiet service gave Therese the credibility to renew the spiritual life of France and the world… and the fruit… the physical tangible fruit of blood sweat and tears gave Mother Angelica the credibility to stare down unholy men and prove them wrong. By their fruits you will know them. If you would be prophets of hope… be doers of Love and Humility.
We began with Dante… wandering midway through life’s journey seeking hope and direction… and like him we can follow a trail of sanctity… from our lives… through the lives of the saints… to the Assumed Mary Immaculate to her Son the source of all our hope. At each stage hope’s reality is confirmed… by our senses, by our faith, by revelation… and at each stage we should take from this feast day the inspiration and confidence to continue to be a Church of Hope for all peoples. Amen.