In this month of August, as many of us turn our thoughts to the last days of summer vacation and returning to school, the Church focuses our attention upon one of the great celebrations of the liturgical year, which is the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Mary has much to teach us about rest and contemplation, especially how to place what truly matters at the center of our lives.
While August in Texas means heat and time to head back to school, in Rome the month of August means a month of vacation for much of the population. It is as if the entire country takes a collective sigh of relief and heads to the mountains or the beach. The heart of the month is August 15, or Ferragosto. This is a day of rest and relaxation, when families enjoy time together.
We will quickly recognize the date as the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The secular Italian state has never been able to completely separate itself from the deep Catholic roots and Catholic culture present among the people. It is significant for us that the day upon which we celebrate Mary’s definitive entrance into heaven serves as a day of rest for the people.
Here in America, and especially in Texas, we have a very strong work ethic. This is something to be proud of and pass on to future generations. At the same time, we can fall into a trap of always working. Where work itself becomes the most important thing we do, and begins to define who we are. Work is important, but there is more to life than work.
In a recent interview conducted by Peter Seewald with Pope Benedict XVI, found in the book Light of the World, the Pope comments on the idea that we must be continually active and busy. The Pope states: “One should not feel obliged to work ceaselessly… Not becoming totally absorbed in activism means maintaining consideration, discretion, deeper examination, contemplation, time for interior pondering, vision, and dealing with things, remaining with God and meditating about God.” The Pope made these comments in relationship to his work of serving the Church, but these words are very important for us as well.
Pope Benedict XVI points to the necessity of assessing everything in the light of Christ. Constant and continual work can lead us to the view that we are truly in charge of our own lives, that we are the ones who provide for ourselves, and we can forget what is truly important, what has lasting value, what is eternal.
Vacation and rest provide time for reassessment of our lives. Vacation is a break from our normal routine. Far from simply recharging our batteries, so we can do more work when we return, vacation can be a time to put the most important things first. This is where the Blessed Virgin Mary and two celebrations in the month of August can help us.
On August 5, we celebrated the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. After the Council of Ephesus declared Mary to be the Mother of God in A.D. 431, something miraculous occurred in Rome. Pope St. Sixtus III had a dream, and it was revealed to him that he was to build a church where it snowed. It did indeed snow on the Esquiline Hill … in the hot, sultry month of August. As Texans, we can truly appreciate how extraordinary it would be if it snowed here in August, and no less so in Rome. The church was built and the miraculous snowfall is still commemorated every year with the dropping of white rose petals — truly a sign of our communion with that first event.
The second event concerning the Virgin Mary which we celebrate in August is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. This was definitively defined by the Church in the year 1950 by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (The Most Bountiful God). The definition states: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.” While this teaching of the Church was defined rather recently, it would be a mistake to believe that this truth has not been held in the hearts and minds of the faithful.
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is one of the most popular subjects of the grand mosaics found in the churches of Rome. The truth of the Assumption is made visible in sacred art in the mosaics of St. Mary in Trastevere and in St. Mary Major. We see in the definition of the dogma and the artistic life of the Church a beautiful harmony.
We see the same harmony in Scripture and Tradition. Scripture tells us of the life of Mary, especially that she held the mysteries of Christ very dear and “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). The early Church never forgot Mary, as is evident in the Holy Land in Jerusalem, where one can find the Church of the Dormition of Mary, as well as the sites connected to Mary in Nazareth and Bethlehem.
The later mosaics of the Virgin Mary in the city of Rome point to the life of prayer of the Church made visible in sacred art. The event of the Assumption was believed and became part of the life of the Church. This is an example of something I like to call “Lex Credendi, Lex Orandi.” That which is believed finds its expression in our life of prayer. We believe and we pray.
This brings us back to our starting point about rest, vacation, and seeing life in the light of Christ. We believe that Mary dwells with her Son, Jesus Christ, in heaven. Therefore, her example is more than just one among many, but truly serves as a way to believe, live, and pray as a Christian. Mary took time to ponder the mystery of Christ. She lived in the work, but was not absorbed by it. She knew temptation, but never allowed anything to separate her from the love of God.
Even in the midst of the heat of August in Texas, let us follow the example of our mother, Mary. Let us find rest in the Lord, and put Him first in all things.
In this edition, you will also see a section dedicated to my mother and her life and profession as a maternity nurse and instructor. There is an especially beautiful letter written by Nicki Prevou. On behalf of Dad, and all of the family... I want to take this occasion to thank so many people for their outpouring of support and prayer. For those who wrote individual notes... You will be hearing from me personally. God bless you and thanks to all. Mom’s life and death and Vigil and Mass of the Resurrection is a living example of the Paschal Mystery and the Communion of the Saints.
May God continue to bless you and your families, and please be assured of my prayers.
In this month of August, as many of us turn our thoughts to the last days of summer vacation and returning to school, the Church focuses our attention upon one of the great celebrations of the liturgical year, which is the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.