Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 15, 2021
Saint Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
Psalm 45:10, 11, 12, 16
1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Luke 1:39-56

Today we celebrate Mary’s being assumed body-and-soul into heaven. As she shared so closely in Jesus’ life and mission, so now she shares His Resurrection. Today’s solemnity invites us to contemplate the mystery of vocation, response, and love most perfectly exemplified in the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The call and response truly involve authentic freedom on God’s part and on Mary’s part. Neither the call nor the response is pre-determined – they each spring from and bear fruit in real love. Mary is portrayed in the Book of Revelation as being glorified by the sun, moon and stars as her garments. She is further pictured as being pregnant. The birth of Jesus was not just a personally defining moment of her life, but also the focal point of history. The mission of her Son became her own, but the threat to that mission is symbolized by the dragon ready to devour her Son. The dragon we face today is predominantly the dragon of indifference towards God’s love for us and the basic needs of our brother and sister human beings. It appears differently in each of our lives: sometimes preoccupation with self or boredom, often forgetfulness or thoughtlessness, always some sin, some form of selfishness or pride.

Today’s solemnity invites us to contemplate further the mystery of vocation, free response, and love most perfectly exemplified in the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and now considered in the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders for Austin Hoodenpyle, one of our seminarians who, God willing, will be ordained to the transitional diaconate in May 2022 and to the priesthood in May 2023. His call and response truly involve authentic freedom on God’s part and on the part of our aspirant to Holy Orders. Neither this call nor this response is pre-determined – they each spring from and bear fruit in real love, and his requires the intercessory assistance of the Blessed Mother – the first to hear the Word of God, ponder it in her heart, and offer it to the world in love and service. The true God – unlike the dragon – never imposes Himself.

The Rite of Admission to Candidacy is a short and simple rite marked by the authentic freedom required for a call and its reception and acknowledgement by the Church of the call to priesthood of a young man who is nearing the end of his seminary discernment. The Rite of Admission is truly marked by the simple confidence of faith; it is the faith required to hear the call and to say “yes.” It is the simplicity of faith that St. Paul reminds us comes from listening. The Rite is steeped in simplicity because our human condition, unlike Mary’s, is so prone to sin that it encounters so many temptations to complicate the nature of our call, even to the point that a man can forget that he is here as a member of the Church who has heard and answered a call through the prayers of others and at Christ’s initiative, not because he is a man who has undertaken a career or lifestyle choice of his own desires.

There are two questions in the Rite. The first question of the Rite seeks from the aspirant a declaration of resolute perseverance in preparation for ordination for ministry of the Church. The question makes explicit the presupposition that the seminarian’s declaration is in response to Christ’s call to him. This presupposition is essential. It requires that a man has heard a call and has adequately discerned through faith and prayer that it is indeed the Lord who is calling him to the priesthood.

The second question seeks from the aspirant a declaration of resolute preparation for a priest’s share in the mission of Christ entrusted to His Church. The preparation is of mind and spirit and involves an intimate conversion of heart in loving one’s neighbor in the freedom of a disciple who knows himself, accepts himself, and gives of himself as a chaste celibate and as one who is loved and redeemed by Christ. The response calls for a humble manifestation of faith in God – that all of this is mysteriously God’s work. Without this manifestation of authentic faith on the part of the candidate, the gift of a vocation can be lost and devoured by the dragon of egocentric indifference.

Admission to Candidacy is the precise moment when the candidate says by God’s Grace in the presence of the Church, I am morally certain that God is calling me to be his priest. I wish to give myself humbly, unreservedly, and lovingly to this mission. The bishop speaking in the person of the Church responds: I recognize signs of God’s call in your life. The charisms of Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the discipline of chaste celibacy have manifested themselves clearly in your personality and behavior. I acknowledge and receive your priestly vocation as authentic. The acknowledgement and reception are the fruit of listening and not the deduction of reasoning or calculation; they are made in the name of Christ with the same confident and humble declaration of faith in the mysterious workings of God as made by the young man and never as something to be taken for granted. There is call, listening, response, and loving service.

Our prayers for Austin Hoodenpyle, our son and aspirant to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, are joined to those perfectly prayed and answered through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially on this Solemnity of the Assumption. Mary’s response to Gabriel’s message of God’s invitation to her was to travel in haste to attend in love to her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, whose pregnancy would be replete with many difficulties because of her advanced age. Mary’s journey is made “in haste” because the mission of the Lord defies indifference and passivity, it is a vocation, it possesses a dignity and importance requiring urgency and attention to detail for it is given and can only be received in love. Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting is a song, an outpouring of joy for what God has done in her life. Through her song, Mary heralds the victory of her Son over the dragon of indifference. This inspired prayer is not about Mary but about the power of God in her life, in that of her ancestors, and in that of Her Son’s Church. Mary’s song is about the marvels and tender mercies of God. Among other things we can learn from the feast of the Assumption is that our awareness of God’s blessings and gratitude toward Him open us more fully to the power of the Holy Spirit. This is more than sufficient material for our contemplation of a priestly vocation and the diligence required for priestly ministry.

Benedict XVI remarked on this Solemnity several years ago, “Christ triumphed over death with the omnipotence of his love. Love alone is omnipotent. This love impelled Christ to die for us and thus to overcome death. Yes, love alone gives access to the Kingdom of life! And Mary entered after her Son, associated with His Glory, after being associated with His Passion. She entered it with an uncontainable force, keeping the way behind her open to us all. And for this reason, we invoke her today as ‘Gate of Heaven,’ ‘Queen of Angels,’ and ‘Refuge of sinners.’ It is certainly not reasoning that will make us understand this reality which is so sublime, but rather simple, forthright faith and the silence of prayer that puts us in touch with the Mystery that infinitely exceeds us. Prayer helps us speak with God and hear how the Lord speaks to our heart.”

The God in whom we believe offers us love through the virtue of hope. We cannot have authentic freedom to love without hope. “All generations will call me blessed.” This means that the future brought about instrumentally by Mary’s “yes,” what is to come, belongs to God, it is in God’s hands, that it is God who conquers our enemies and brings us home to Him. It is only God, made fully human through Mary’s “yes” in Jesus Christ, who saves us from the dragon of indifference and so He must be the intentional center of a priest’s vocation to foster that same centrality in the lives of the People of God, members of His Church. The gift of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary conveys most clearly and purely the hope in the Resurrection, given to us in the Eucharist which soon is to be offered and which, God willing, Austin Hoodenpyle one day will consecrate as a priest fully and freely conformed to the call and mission of Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary and the Son of God.

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