The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary always reminds me of Pope John Paul II’s visit to World Youth Day in Denver in the summer of 1993. The culmination of the event was an outdoor Mass with 400,000 kids in Cherry Creek State Park. Because of the dry heat that day, it felt like we were having Mass in a desert.
Such an ascetic environment was perhaps the perfect setting for Pope John Paul II to make a prophetic connection that needed to be made for the kids and adults who were his audience that day.
Scripture portrays the battle between life and death
The Liturgy of the Word for the Mass that day, on the Solemnity of the Assumption, opens with that famous passage from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 12. This passage features a woman in the pangs of childbirth, whose child is being stalked by the predatory “huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns.” The monster is seeking “to devour her child” when she would give birth. It’s hard to find a better image of the abortion struggle in the Bible.
The second reading for the Solemnity is the triumphal account of Christ’s victory over death (from 1 Corinthians 15), which is the foundation of the whole doctrine of Mary’s Assumption. Namely, if Christ had not been raised from the dead, Mary would never have been assumed into Heaven.
The beautiful Gospel of the Visitation follows and features the unborn John the Baptist greeting the Unborn Jesus Christ in the wombs of their holy mothers. In striking contrast to the first reading, there is no better pro-life image in the Bible than the Visitation. The interplay between divinity and humanity, seen and unseen forces, is a drama of deepest significance that I have written about before.
John Paul the Prophet
The scriptures that day set the tone for the Holy Father’s sermon to the massive audience of kids from all around the world. John Paul was a prophet who “spoke truth to power” as they say. In addressing the first reading, the Pope pulled no punches in calling abortion a diabolical evil and a worldwide force that threatens the very foundations of human civilization. It’s fair to say that most of the kids in the audience had never heard anyone speak about abortion in those terms. Here is part of his stark message:
This marvelous world … is the theater of a never-ending battle being waged for our dignity and identity as free, spiritual beings. This struggle parallels the apocalyptic combat described in the First Reading of this Mass. Death battles against Life: a “culture of death” seeks to impose itself on our desire to live, and live to the full.
There are those who reject the light of life, preferring “the fruitless works of darkness” (Eph 5:11). Their harvest is injustice, discrimination, exploitation, deceit, violence. In every age, a measure of their apparent success is the death of the Innocents. In our own century, as at no other time in history, the “culture of death” has assumed a social and institutional form of legality to justify the most horrible crimes against humanity: genocide, “final solutions”, “ethnic cleansings”, and the massive “taking of lives of human beings even before they are born, or before they reach the natural point of death” (Dominum et vivificantem, 57).
Mary, the center of the struggle
But, as if to inspire hope in such a desperate situation, the Holy Father celebrated Mary as the only creature who has fully experienced the final victory of life. He presented her as the one who remains at the center of the struggle for life in this world:
At her Assumption, Mary was “taken up to Life” – body and soul. She is already a part of “the first fruits” (1 Cor 15:20) of our Savior’s redemptive Death and Resurrection. The Son took his human life from her; in return he gave her the fullness of communion in Divine Life. She is the only other being in whom the mystery has already been completely accomplished. In Mary the final victory of Life over death is already a reality.
These are astonishing words – “the final victory of Life over death is already a reality” in Our Lady! It is also one of the boldest prophetic statements of our age to claim that, after Christ, the Virgin Mary “is the only other being in whom the mystery [of Divine Life] has already been completely accomplished.”
In so many words the Holy Father was saying that all those who consider themselves pro-life must take Mary as their pre-eminent champion in the struggle to restore legal protection to unborn children and to root out a pervasive culture of death.
Our Lady was the channel through which Divine Life came to us. She is now the one who will restore life to a society that has succumbed to death.
Worldly power vs. heavenly power
As the country now focuses on a Supreme Court confirmation, we must not pretend that even a human force as powerful as a pro-life majority on the high court will be the solution to the abortion problem. The culture of death is not limited to the legal realm. It penetrates our world deeply and is in the minds and hearts of people. It is part of the institutions and accepted practices of our nation. Abortion is a spiritual evil, not just a bad law, and to defeat it we need a spiritual force of life to counteract all the death and destruction abortion brings in its wake.
Undoubtedly we must work for every human solution possible to overcome this great moral and social evil. However, a merely human solution is not possible. A pro-life majority may be one avenue through which God can bring about change, but then again, powerful people have a powerful potential to betray our deepest hopes. The only one who will not betray us is God. And He has already given us a greater power than the Supreme Court – a heavenly power – to fight our battle.
What better force of good can we bring to bear on this evil than our heavenly Mother with a Child who has overcome death?
If we have not made sufficient headway in overcoming the power of the abortion evil after more than forty years, it means we simply have not fully turned to her to crush the head of this “huge red dragon.”
The fundamental commitment
As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption this month and read again of Our Lady’s victory over the Evil One, we must consecrate or re-consecrate ourselves to the Mother of Jesus and make a fundamental commitment to the pro-life cause. None of us is personally responsible for ending the terrible evil of abortion. But each of us has a part to play in the battle. That part must be consecrated to her who has already experienced “the final victory of life over death.”
St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that this cause is urgent and that our part in it is not secondary:
For he says: “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
Our Lady waits for us to invite her into the battle – and now is that time.