We continue with this excerpt from my book MARY, MOTHER OF THE SON (available on Kindle at the link):
The nineteenth century saw the largest effort to make a systematic case against the dignity and divine origins of the human person. The basic claim of the Philosophies of Pride was that the human person comes from chaos, exists by power and conflict, not love, and shall return to chaos and nothingness. The paradox of these philosophies was their tendency to deny the reality of original sin even as they posited a universe completely dominated by the mutual enmity—between man and God and between race, class, and gender—that is the very essence of original sin. Then, instead of redemption in Christ, they inevitably offered some form of earthly paradise as an ersatz heaven. If only we could achieve the classless society, or a pure race, or absolute equality, or the perfect sex life, or the most toys, or whatever other worldly goal you might care to name, then happiness will be attained. And if that costs lives—even millions of them—then the end will have justified the means.
The twentieth century put those ideas into effect and reaped a harvest of unprecedented death and destruction. For if we act as though we come from chaos, we inevitably return to chaos. If we insist there’s no outside beyond nature, no transcendent God by whom we are made and to whom we shall return, then we murder each other by the millions to get the biggest piece of the pie here and now. For, as Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov said, “If there is no God, everything is permissible.” Or, as Schlitz Beer told us, “You only go around once in life, so go for the gusto!” It’s not only professors who spout the philosophy of pride—after a hundred years, everybody’s doing it.
And so, as the nineteenth century attacked the dignity of our origins in unprecedented ways, the twentieth century blasphemed (and the twenty-first century continues to blaspheme) the dignity of our destiny. Again and again and again, the twentieth century screamed and blared that our final destiny was the oven, the mass grave, the concentration camp, the gas chamber, the muddy trench, the frozen Siberian waste, the anonymity of the cubicle, the facelessness of the production line, the dereliction of the nursing home, the dumpster behind the abortuary. It taught us that people who can’t produce should die; people with defective bodies or brains should die; people who did not look like us should die; children should die; old people should die; and that we are all means to ends and not creatures made in the image of God, for whom he was willing to die. In the midst of this insanity—directly after a war in which all these horrors had been manifest, the Holy Father was moved to ask the Church whether the Assumption should be declared a dogma of the Faith. The Church overwhelmingly assented.
Therefore, in 1950, in the middle of the bloodiest assault on the dignity and destiny of the human person in the history of the world, the Church held up for us the icon of our true destiny and showed us, through Mary, what we are meant to become. Pius XII makes this point explicitly when he gives the second reason for defining the dogma (besides love for God and Mary):
Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into Heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.
Mary’s destiny is the sign of our destiny. Our destiny is not to be the oven, the mass grave, the abortuary, the anonymity of the production line, the brothel, the cubicle, or the street. Just as we do not come from chaos, so we are not destined for chaos. The Triune God wills to grant us, as he has already granted her, the ecstatic crowned glory of complete union—body, soul, and spirit—with himself in eternity. The Church, in pointing to Mary, is simply underscoring Athanasius, who famously said that God “was made man that we might be made God”. It is making the same point C. S. Lewis made in his magnificent sermon, “The Weight of Glory”:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
Once again, God showed us something vital about our relationship to himself through Mary, his greatest saint. Where the Immaculate Conception reminded us both of the full power of Jesus to save from sin and of the truth that we come from God and not from chaos, the Assumption reminds us of His power to save us to glory. It is the sign of our “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Contemplating Mary we are to recall and believe Peter’s mysterious declaration that we have been made “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). For the Assumption teaches us that what God has already done for Mary is a foretaste of what will surely be done for us as well, if we remain faithful to Christ Jesus as she did. That is why Lumen Gentium, from the Second Vatican Council, teaches that:
In the most holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle.
In the bodily and spiritual glory which she possesses in heaven, the Mother of Jesus continues in this present world as the image and first flowering of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise Mary shines forth until the day the Lord shall come [2 Pet. 3:10] as a sign of sure hope and comfort for the pilgrim People of God.