Sunday reflection, The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Rev. Joseph Briody - August 15, 2021
“A great sign appeared in heaven, a Woman clothed with the sun . . .” (Rev 12:1).
Mary is lifted up to God by God. Our Lady’s bodily Assumption into heaven reminds us powerfully that Christ is alive and death is swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:54). The Assumption is truly a little “Easter in August!” Mary embodies in a special way the first fruits of the Paschal Mystery. What happened in Mary, “full of grace,” will happen also in us, in our turn, if we are faithful to grace. We are to reign with Jesus where Mary is already Queen of heaven and earth. Yet she is ever close to us. As Mother of God and our Mother, her intercession is all-powerful with God (Saint John Henry Newman).
In daily life—and in architecture—Saint John’s Seminary looks to Mary. The Marian Courtyard is a great favorite—raising eyes and heart to the Mother of God. Easily missed, there is a Marian emblem over the main entrance to the seminary. Most remarkable, however, is Our Lady’s altar en route to the seminary chapel, indicating that we go to “to Jesus, through Mary.” There Mary’s arms are outstretched to shower down the graces flowing from Christ at her intercession. There Mary is presented as Queen of the Clergy (Regina Cleri) and Faithful Virgin (Virgo Fidelis). The future priest’s relationship with Mary is carefully fostered since she continually draws him to Jesus her Son, the great High Priest. The Church’s tradition saw Mary as the mold of Christ, i.e., the place where he was formed. To place ourselves in her hands is to let her, with her Spouse the Holy Spirit, form Christ in us. Submitting to her, we follow the example of Jesus himself in seeking only the will of the Father (Luke 2:51, 49). The seminary’s image of the Faithful Virgin is especially powerful in our day when life-long fidelity is challenging and therefore all the more appreciated.
The formation of priests in life-long fidelity is a priority of Saint John’s Seminary. Priesthood is a gift that is not revoked. One is a priest forever. Life-long habits are formed in the seminary to sustain and support the gift of the priesthood. Such habits or virtues include chaste celibacy, pastoral charity, persevering prayer, humility, and docility to the will of God (in communion with the Church and the Bishop). These carefully formed habits dispose the man to the workings of God’s grace. They lead to future priestly happiness, holiness, wholesomeness, effectiveness, and resilience.
Every time the seminarian or priest enters or leaves Saint John’s Chapel he looks to Mary, the Faithful Virgin, who stood by the Cross, reigns now in heaven, and unfailingly assists those who strive to be faithful. Contemplating Mary in glory inspires and enables fidelity in great and small ways. Small acts form the muscle memory of greater fidelity and count greatly in pastoral ministry. Reflecting on Mary’s Assumption, the Anglican theologian John Macquarrie writes that in every “faithful act of discipleship . . . prayer offered in faith . . . and hand stretched out in love” the Church on earth enters more deeply into Mary’s Assumption and so into the mystery of Christ: “human life is being lifted up to God by God” (Mary for All Christians, 96). Virgo Fidelis ora pro nobis!