The feast of the Assumption that we celebrate today means very simply that Our Lady is in heaven. The teaching itself says: ‘At the end of her earthly life, the Immaculate Mother of God, ever Virgin, was taken to Heaven body and soul in heavenly glory.’ It doesn’t say how it happened or when it happened, but just that it did happen and that Mary is now in heaven, in body and soul. It is a way of saying that because of the extraordinary position that Mary was given, by being the Mother of Jesus, she shared in his sufferings and she also shared in his resurrection and so was taken up to heaven at the end of her life.
In many countries there is still a strong devotion to Our Lady. We have always found great consolation in Our Lady and still do. Mary is completely a human being and very much sympathizes with us in our struggles, because she has been through the same struggles. She has appeared in many different places in the world and always to guide us back to the right path.
When the angel Gabriel came and told Mary that God was asking her to become the Mother of Jesus, the first words of the angel were: ‘Mary, do not be afraid, you have won God’s favour.’ The few lines that the angel said to Mary, might be summed up in a different way. You can imagine that the Lord was saying something quite startling to Our Lady: ‘Mary do not be afraid... God is asking you to put aside all your plans for the future and do his will instead. Do you accept?’ In a way, this is what the angel was saying to her, but he started it off with ‘Mary do not be afraid.’ ‘God knows what he is doing.’
No doubt all of us have had various ideas as to what we hoped our lives might involve; different plans and indeed often very good plans. I believe that one of the greatest challenges facing anyone who tries to be faithful to God, as most of us do, is when God dramatically changes what we thought He was going to do. God asks us, ‘Will you leave aside all your plans for serving me, and take on my ones instead?’ The thing is we probably weren’t even aware that we had our own plans, until He asked us to give them up, by making our lives take all kinds of unexpected turns. And then what did actually happen may have turned out to be quite disappointing. ‘I had hoped it would be much more.’ Think of the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection when Jesus suddenly joined them walking along the road. They talk about what had happened and add, ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free’ (Luke 24.21). ‘We are so disappointed.’ What must Our Lady have been thinking when she watched Jesus take his last breath and then bury him? What about all the promises of the prophets and the angel? Now he was dead.
The plans we had may have been really excellent ones. I have no doubt that Our Lady probably had really beautiful plans as to how she would serve the Lord. But the Lord may ask us at some stage, ‘Will you follow my plans for you?’ ‘Are you prepared to give up this brilliant work that you are doing at the moment, because I have a different one?’ ‘Are you prepared to accept this disappointment in your family, or your marriage?’ I think that this can be a key moment in anyone’s life. Two things can happen from it. We can accept it in faith and go with it, thereby opening the door to allow Jesus to transform us, or we can fight it and resent the fact that ‘it all went wrong for us’, which may lead us to become bitter.
If we really remain open to accept what God asks, to the many twists and turns that God takes us through, He will bring the greatest good out of us, because He will transform us through these things. This is really the only thing that is important, that we allow God to transform us. God’s purpose for us is so that He can fill us completely with himself, unite us to himself at a far deeper level than we may have ever imagined and then use us a hundred times more effectively in the world, but God asks for our openness.
To sum up: If we are open to following God, to trying to do his will, He may continually ask us to take different directions, often having to let go of plans or ideas that we thought were very good. The more open we are, the more quickly the Lord can transform us within. So if you do find yourself thinking sometimes, ‘Everything seems to have gone wrong. I never managed to do this or that,’ remember that if you just stay open and allow the Lord to guide you, then not only have your plans not been wasted, but in fact you have allowed the Lord to do far more in you than you might have imagined.
‘I am the handmaid of the Lord said, Mary. Let what you have said be done.’