What really counts? Christian tradition has answered this question from time immemorial, even by situating right in the heart of the Liturgical Year a Feast for Mary – the Mother of God and archetype of the Church, therefore of every faithful person and at the same time of the entire community of believers – which illumines the ordinary flow of days. This Feast celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin into Heaven body and soul when the moment of her death came. This passing, in the liturgical patrimony, above all in the East, is indicated by names which seek to express Our Lady's overcoming of this event, inevitable for the human being: Dormition and Transition.
Benedict XVI drew attention to this. He was certainly not alone among Catholics and Christians in recalling that 60 years ago on 1 November 1950, the Feast of All Saints, his Predecessor Pius XII in the most solemn and committed way defined “The Church, in her infallible Magisterium”. The Pope said that this ancient Christian conviction, particularly dear to the Church in the East, is a truth of the faith which pertains to dogma. And, as usual, the Pontiff with limpid words went straight to the heart of the matter: “here lies the startling secret and key truth of the whole human saga”.
The inheritance of man is death. And it isn't banal to remember it in this time which, with unwavering determination, desires to erase its own natural evidence from the affluent society by moving the dying away from their homes, subtly advertising euthanasia (which is, basically, a desperate refusal, a vain and ruthless attempt to control it), by longing for a technological immortality as elusive as it is agonizing, by ignoring injustice and violence.
But death – every believer knows and hopes – does not have the last word. Christ annihilated its power. And in the human creature that welcomed him first is anticipated the final destiny of all human kind: in the words of the Creed recalled by Benedict XVI, “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”.
Here is the “strong hope” proclaimed by the Pope in continuity with Christian tradition that far surpasses the “shadow” of survival in our hearts of those who were dear to us. This hope is inevitably destined to pass away, precisely because such survival awaits the purified and mysterious recovery of every aspect of human life in the fullness of God. This points to that image of “Heaven” in Benedict XVI's explanation and not only “some salvation of the soul in a vague afterlife”. No, the God, who made himself small in Mary's womb and who is the friend of men, “does not abandon us in or after death, but has a place for us”. This counts, and it is truly a hope that allows us to live to the full.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 19, 2019
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