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Assumption of Mary

The actor Alec Guinness wrote an autobiography called Blessings in Disguise. That title referred in part to the whole affair of being an actor—an occupation in which one is always, by definition, ‘disguised’ as someone else. But more importantly it referred to Guinness’s view that many blessings in his life had come in the guise, in the costume, of something else—of something neutral, or of something distressing. Time was to tell, he implied, that these events, or encounters, or deprivations, were really blessings.

I mention this because the gospel passage for the feast of the Assunption, which includes that prayer of praise of Our Lady’s which is called the ‘Magnificat’, shows her as exulting in blessings in disguise. In just the way that her Son, later, was to use, she names various states of vulnerability and dependency, and says that she and others like her have been blessed just there. ‘He has raised the lowly’, she says: ‘he has given the hungry every good thing.’

The place to start with such a celebration is, surely oneself. Telling other people how fortunate they are, when that is not how they see and feel things, is usually not a fruitful policy. There is an Irish saying which goes, ‘It’s easy to lie on another man’s wound’: glibness about the fortunes and the misfortunes of others is never a good idea.

And there is nothing to suggest that our Lady was glib in that way, or in any other way: God knows, if anyone was to be aware of terrible suffering and deprivation, she was. Her warrant for speaking of blessings received by others was her singular readiness to attest the divine light which could reach her in darkness, the divine sweetness which could reach her in bitterness.

And if she has one thing more than another to teach us today, surely this is it: that growth in humanity, growth in the Spirit, begins and is fostered just where we thank God for our blessings. Our blessings, after all, include absolutely everything that has done us good, or can ever do us good. They include the discovery of fire and the invention of the alphabet and cookery and computers and snow and beaches and music and the Great Barrier Reef and every human intellectual discipline and smiles and the carpentry that made the benches we sit on, and all the rest of it.

More intimately still, blessings include each other, and they include ourselves. We came, each of us, from the nothingness which did not yield up those many siblings we might have had and will never have: and we are sustained in being at all from instant to instant not by some act of will of our own, or by the world’s forces and powers alone, but by the empowering vitality of God himself. This is a blessed day for us—as are they all. As the darkness falls away at dawn, the masked blessing of the world, and of the life we live in it, is shown once more through its disguise.

Even more than that, though, what brings us gahter for the ‘Eucharist’, or Thanksgiving, is the greatest of blessings in disguise. We share a belief that the short life and pitiful death of Jesus the Unique One were vindicated in his resurrection. From the beginning of its existence, the Church has reiterated this: and without this, it has nothing of interest or importance to say at all: ‘If Christ is not risen, our believing is empty.’

We know from the gospels how drained and dismayed and dishearted the disciples of Jesus were when their stripped Lord was tortured to death: and how inhuman they would have been, if they had not been like that! We also know that what put heart into them again was not some passage of time, time the supposed ‘great healer’, but life’s embracing, and being embraced anew by, that same Jesus.

And we know besides that they did not thereupon forget about the suffering and only talk about the rising. They insisted on the fact that it was in Christ’s readiness to love to the end, however odious that end, that definitive love was released into the world, of which the rising was the display. That is truly a case of blessings in disguise, and of blessings showing through.

This is why we gather for our Eucharist. And this is why, with the Mary who was uniquely open to being blessed, we make her Assumption a great feast.

Peter Steele SJ

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