The Assumption of Mary and the Conquest of Fear

We continue with this excerpt from my book MARY, MOTHER OF THE SON (available on Kindle at the link):


For Pope St. John Paul II, Mary points the way to the true destiny of redeemed humanity. She reminds us of the fact that we do have a “supreme calling” beyond this world and that we are not merely accidents waiting to be snuffed out like sparks on a random breeze. All the great systems and diagrams that cost the world so much blood in the twentieth century were the fruit of philosophies that took for granted that we come from chaos and that enmity, competition, pride, strife, raw force, and evil—in a word, original sin—was the most fundamental reality in the world. They could not see further than the fact of original sin (even as many of them tried to deny original sin) and so they could not see further than this world.

I once heard George Weigel remark that John Paul II seemed to him to be the most fearless person he’d ever met. But the source of the fearlessness was not John Paul’s experiences under Nazi or Stalinist oppression. It was, said Weigel, because John Paul had really internalized the fact that the worst thing that could possibly happen had already happened: God had been murdered—and God had brought Easter out of it. John Paul II knew he belonged to a race that had murdered God. He therefore believed in the reality of original sin (which is why he never tried to suggest that we could create heaven on earth). Indeed, he had personally experienced and witnessed some of the worst horrors human sin has ever wrought. But he also believed in something deeper than sin: the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by which Jesus showed forth how completely he could save the human person from the destruction of sin. He believed in the Assumption of Mary, by which Jesus showed forth how completely he could glorify the human person in perfect freedom and love. John Paul knew the true dignity both of our origins and of our destiny and refused to let sin blot out that fact about us. While he acknowledged the mystery of sin, he never let sin name any person he met—even those who tried to murder him. He knew that though sin corrupts our humanity, it did not constitute our humanity. And because he knew where we came from, he knew where we were supposed to be going, because by the power of Christ Jesus, one of us is already there in heaven, sharing fully in the glory of Christ.

This grasp of the dignity of our origins and our destiny, shown forth in Mary, is (I know of no other way of putting it) profoundly Christian. As novel as it still feels for me to say that as a former Evangelical, I am nonetheless persuaded it is so. For John Paul, Mary is our Mother because God is our Father. Against all the ideologies that rejected the fatherhood of God and so forced us into a master/slave relationship with him, John Paul insisted on the revelation of God the Father through Jesus the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. And in so doing, he also insisted on our full—that is, glorified—human destiny against a world system that increasingly reduces the human person to a slave, a thing, and a mere protein resource.

It was this that made him able to speak so profoundly to a world that had forgotten God and to be the pope, not just of Catholics, but of all Christians. The Marian dimension of his life and teaching was not some accidental accretion to a faith that would be better off without it. It was as essential a message as ever our world needed to hear at this moment and as essential to John Paul’s Gospel as body and blood were to the Incarnate Son of God. For John Paul knew that body and blood, too, were a gift from Mary by the grace of God. And so John Paul insisted, following the teaching of the Church, that her flesh as well had been raised up to share in the ecstasy of the Blessed Trinity—both as a reward to her and as a prophetic sign for us that, no matter how much we smear the world with filth, blood, and insanity, evil has neither the first nor the last word. Jesus Christ does. That was why John Paul could say “Be not afraid.” It is why we can—and must—say it as well.


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