There is a very beautiful tradition in many small towns in Italy. On August 15, feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, the villagers organize not one, but TWO processions starting at the same time but from different ends of the town, both of them heading towards the center of the town. In the first procession, the people carry a life-size statue of Mary. This procession represents Mary on her way to heaven after her life here on earth. In the second procession, they carry another life-size statue of Jesus. This procession represents Jesus going out to meet His mother as she arrives in heaven. The big moment comes when the two processions meet under an arch of branches and flowers in the center of the town.
The exhilaration, music and fireworks that always accompany such manifestations are at their peak. What do the people do when the two statues meet? A very beautiful gesture. They make the two statues bow to each other three times as a sign of Jesus welcoming Mary, his mother, at the gates of heaven. Then, once the bowing ceremony is over, the people carry the two statues side by side in a single procession to the parish church where Jesus and Mary are enthroned in the sanctuary. Jesus thus leads His mother to her throne in heaven.
Perhaps all these festivities may seem childish to our sophisticated mind. Senseless even. Personally I find them powerful and meaningful.
Our God of Surprises
When Mary finished her earthly existence, she was lifted up to Heaven body and soul. Since she did not sin, her body, like the body of Jesus, did not corrupt. It passed straight from this earth to heaven. She made it! She clinched it! And this gives us hope. We can make it also! We can clinch it also...
"In her assumption Mary stands before humanity as the pattern and exemplar of an authentic, Christ-centered optimism and hope."
This came home to me very strongly this week when I got news that a friend of mine, who was extremely kind to me when I first arrived on this side of the world, died suddenly in a car accident. She was only 48, mother of two. Louisa was her name. She was going to babysit for her only grandson, Nicholas, when an old lady who was driving on the wrong side of the rood, crashed into her, head-on. Louisa died instantly.
It was a death which touched me deeply and which triggered a serious of questions in my mind and heart. It made me realize once more that life is not a fun-game which we can waste away according to our whim Life is serious business which must be given a direction, or otherwise everything is absurd.
Mary reveals to us a secret which is priceless. Life HAS a direction. It is heading towards heaven. Life has meaning because it is a pilgrimage to heaven. This is our home. Here we are tourists. She completed her journey successfully because she was smart enough to live this journey satisfactorily. She knew how to travel.
Our Lady Of Surprises
God has His plan for Mary. Mary had her plans for herself. The plan of God included pregnancy before her wedding night. Obviously this was not in Mary's plans. The plan of God included a very particular marriage. Being mother of a very different son. Her plan was to live a simple homely life in Nazareth. The point about the whole issue is that when God messed her plans, she reacted wisely. She did not rebel. She did not self-pity herself. She did not try to grasp at her projects with tight hands. She let go of her plans and embraced His plans. She said yes. She played His game. She followed His directions. Even if it meant entering in an adventure much bigger than herself.
What is critical here is to realize that the plan of God was not an easy one. Sometimes we think, that if we are in the will of God, everything will be a bed of roses and life will be without trial or difficulty. This was not the case for Mary. She had to travel to Bethlehem when she was nine months pregnant. She had to give birth in a manger. She had to flee to Egypt because of King Herod. She found herself a widow quite early in her marriage.
One may argue that God could have done things otherwise. He could have timed the census of King Herod better so that Mary would not have had to travel in such a precarious situation. He could have found a suitable place for Mary to give birth. He could have softened the heart of the king. He could have left her husband Joseph live longer. He could have made it easier, one may think. After all they are obeying the will of God for their lives...
But God is God. Smarter. More insightful. He gives us constantly what we need not what we want. We can grumble and resist. We can like Mary accept and relax.
This was the secret of Mary. She learned to say yes. Not one yes, but a constant yes. Yes to what God offered to her in her daily circumstances of her life. She did not say yes to God once and for all, but she sustained that yes, her fiat patiently, silently, continually, in the mature simplicity of real greatness throughout her life.
She was assumed to heaven because of that simple Yes. Today we can be assumed to heaven if, like Mary, we learn to say YES to what God presents to us.
and Our Lady of Surprises,
what a happy joy you caused the wedding guests,
when you asked your divine Son
to work the miracle of water into wine!
What a happy surprise for them
since they thought the wine had run dry,
I too, Mary love surprises
and as your child,
may I ask you to favor me with
I ask this only
because you are my ever caring Mother.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.