Surrounded on all sides by so much bad news, the world has been treated these past two weeks to some diverting fun in the form of the London Olympics. Our contemporary Olympics is, of course, a thoroughly modern media spectacular that has actually little in common with its ancient namesake, but its name at least reminds us that there was once an ancient world so totally different from our own. In that world, where the stories of the gods were an important part of daily life, the Olympics were an overwhelmingly religious festival, organized around the offering of sacrifices to the Olympian head-god Zeus. And, in that world where the stories of the gods were an important part of daily life, ancient Greeks and Romans would all have known the story of the god Apollo’s birth - how a dragon had pursued his mother in a pre-emptive attempt to eliminate him, how his mother found a safe place to give birth, and how the newborn god soon destroyed the dragon. In the first century, the Emperor Nero posed as a new Apollo. (Nero competed in the Olympics - and was declared the winner despite the fact that he failed even to complete his event).
The early Christians, however, had their own alternative version of the story, from which we just heard in today’s 1st reading [Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab]. The child destined to rule all the nations was not Apollo, of course, but Christ.
The Christian version of the story expressed the hope in the future that is fundamental to Christian faith. But in the actual world of now, in which death always appears to have the final word, what we hope for appears at best as a hope, at worst just a wish.
But the wish has been transformed into hope by Christ, the first of all the human race to be raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:20]. Jesus Christ is indeed, as Saint Paul teaches, the new and definitive Adam. On this basis the 2nd Vatican Council reminded us that in Christ is to “be found the key, the focal point, and the goal” of every human being “as well as of all of human history” [Gaudium et Spes, 10].
What we celebrate today, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - the ancient belief of the Church “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory" [Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus] – represents one further step towards the final fulfillment of God’s great plan for the human race.
In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was where God dwelt directly with his people. Both Mary and the Church are arks of God’s new covenant. Mary is already with God and can be seen there with the eyes of faith by the Church, which fervently hopes to follow her there, even as we strive to imitate her here and now. On earth, Mary linked Israel and the Church. Assumed into heaven, she now links the Church as we now are and the Church as we then hope to be.
And so today the Church exults with Mary in praise of what God, through Christ, has already done for the world and is continuing to do. Today the Church exults with Mary in proclaiming the greatness of the Lord, who, in exalting Mary, has shown us our future – his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever [Luke 1:55].
Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, August 15, 2012.