The gospel today begins with a journey.
“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste…”
This time of year, I think, a lot of us can appreciate the idea of taking a trip. Millions of us are headed to the beach or the mountains, National Parks or Disney World. But what Mary does here is hardly a vacation. She has just been told that she is to be the Mother of God. And rather than keeping this news to herself, or wondering how she will cope, she sets out on a journey, to visit her cousin, Elizabeth — and we have this momentous scene that follows, The Visitation.
Not only does Mary take this journey to a town of Judah but, with this event, the great journey of her LIFE begins – an adventure that will not end until her final journey, to heaven, on the feast we celebrate today, the Assumption.
We tend to think of the Blessed Mother as a quiet, serene figure – a woman of few words, but blessed with tremendous faith, and boundless trust. This is true.
But this morning, I’d like to ask you to think of her a little differently.
Think of her also as a woman of action.
She is a woman on a continual journey — constantly, by necessity, on the move. She is restless, rarely sitting still or staying in one place.
After this journey to see Elizabeth, we next find Mary embarking on an arduous trip, while pregnant, to Bethlehem.
After giving birth, she and her small family are on the move again, fleeing to Egypt, to escape death.
We meet her again, traveling to Jerusalem, where her son goes missing – and we follow her as she goes in search of him. Finding him, she continues her travels, bringing him home to Nazareth.
Mary, as the first disciple, in many ways prefigures all the disciples who will follow – those who traveled, mostly on foot, throughout the world to spread the gospel and proclaim the good news. Like those apostles, Mary was a missionary – the first missionary, a woman who traveled and carried Christ to the world.
In today’s gospel, we see her, literally, bringing Jesus to another, as she carries him in her womb and goes to her cousin and speaks the words any missionary might pronounce – words which are the very essence of The Good News, and the beginning of all belief:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”
What follows, the Magnificat, is Mary’s great gift to scripture, one of its most beautiful prayers. It is prayed every evening in the Liturgy of the Hours by millions around the world. With that, Mary’s great acclamation becomes the Church’s.
We can only imagine what other travels she took in the course of her life … but we can’t forget one in particular, the most difficult of all, as she followed her son on HIS journey to Calvary.
But today, on this feast, we celebrate her ultimate journey – her assumption into heaven, body and soul. The woman who spent so much of her life in motion — setting out, traveling, searching and fleeing – finally is given a place of rest, a place “prepared by God,” as Revelation puts it. This day, we honor that, and honor how God has “looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
This feast marks the end of Mary’s earthly story – and the beginning of one that continues, to this day, in heaven. She becomes, for all time, what Elizabeth says in her first word of greeting: “Blessed.”
But though she left this world, Mary is not removed from us. Her life is closely entwined with ours. All of us, like Mary, are on a journey. All of us are traveling to places we may not understand, to destinations we cannot see. This is life. But we ask Mary to help guide us on our way.
The road is long. The journey isn’t easy. We pray to have the trust in God that we need to travel whatever road we must take – just as Mary did.
And we pray, too, that one day our journeying will lead us to meet her face to face – in that place prepared for her, that destination that became her home, and where she waits for us, with a mother’s love and a mother’s hope.