In many parts of the world-- especially Europe and Latin America--, August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary is a major holiday involving processions, fireworks, special devotions and much fanfare; in many countries, it is a public holiday which means that all businesses and government agencies are closed, making time for family gatherings and communal celebration. Though there is no biblical basis for this holiday, it is based on the tradition and the dogma (1950) that Mary, "having completed the course of her earthly life," was "assumed" into heaven and that her body therefore did not suffer the ravages of decay.
While the Feast of the Assumption is an expression of Marian devotion, it also has a symbolic significance, especially in times of conflict and division. Carl Jung points out that Mary's place "alongside the Trinity" was the answer to the deep longing for an intercessor and mediatrix-- for the presence of a heavenly Mother. This is why he considered the dogma "to be the most important religious event since the Reformation.” At the same, the glorification of Mary's humanity holds the promise that we, too, are destined for heavenly realms.
The danger here, of course, is that we dismiss our earthly life as a "vale of tears" and focus only on the world to come. That, I believe, is spiritually unhelpful. While "heaven" is our destiny, this world is where we presently have our being and where we learn how to be citizens of the world to come -- not by turning out backs on where we are now, but by making sure this world is habitable for all God's creation. This not only means establishing a just world order in which everyone has equal rights, but also protecting the planet and all her creatures. Distracted as we are by both pandemic and politics, are we ignoring what is happening around us -- the massive oil spill off the coast of Mauritius, for example, or the collapse of Canada's last fully intact ice shelf, or Chinese fishing fleets threatening the ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands?
Any spirituality that ignores our earthly origins is neither transcendent nor holy-- let us lift our eyes heavenward while tending to the Earth which is our present home.
PS Try my spiritual self-assessment tool! After you take the Quiz, you will automatically receive a computer-generated diagram and explanatory comments regarding your strengths and "growing edges." I hope you find the Quiz useful!
When Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon,
a Canaanite woman of that district came to him, calling out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But Jesus did not say a word in response.
Jesus’ disciples urged him,
“Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He replied, “It is not right to take the children's food
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from their master's table.”
Then Jesus answered,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.
Reading the story of the Canaanite woman, I am struck by its similarities to Matthew's account of the healing of the centurion's servant in Matt 8:5-13. In both narratives, a Gentile approaches Jesus with the request that he heal someone close to them who is suffering -- the centurion's paralyzed servant, the Canaanite woman's demon-tormented daughter. Both the centurion and the woman are confident that he has the power to work healing miracles; and, in both instances, Jesus commends them for their faith, contrasting it to the lack of faith he has experienced among his own people. The message is clearly that Jesus' mission extends beyond national/ religious boundaries, especially in today's Gospel where Jesus is in the region of Tyre and Sidon, in southern Phoenicia. Mark's Gospel, in fact, places him in a house in Tyre and it is there that the woman falls at his feet and begs him to drive the demon out of her daughter (Mk 8:24-30).
Another point of interest is that the encounter with the Canaanite woman follows Jesus' response to the Pharisees and scribes who question why his disciples don't follow the prescribed purification rituals regarding food. His last recorded words before leaving Gennesaret for Tyre are significant: "The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile" (Mt 15:18-20).
To Jesus' contemporaries, the Cannanite woman would be considered "unclean"; she is both defiled and defiling, no more than a "dog." His disciples have no compassion for her and find her irritating; they urge Jesus to send her on her way so she will stop bothering them. Instead Jesus engages her in conversation which could be interpreted as "playful banter" for his disciples' edification. Far from being silenced or humiliated, the woman is quick to respond, picking up on the "dog imagery: "even the dogs eat the scraps..." She will not take no for an answer.
For Jesus, it is the heart that matters, not race, gender, religion, occupation, or other variables. "His people" are people of heart, not those who are "ritually pure," religiously observant, or culturally "in good standing." This gospel encourages us to examine our own "people": Are they those who look like us, think like us, vote like us? Are they those who reinforce our own attitudes and beliefs, or do they include the "differing others" who are unlike us in most things? Do we have room for centurions and Canaanite women in our own circle of friends -- or do we only welcome those who wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before meals?