Our Catholic Church teaches that in the Dogma of the Assumption, Mary the Mother of Jesus was taken body and soul into the glory of God in heaven, when her life on earth came to an end. Mary’s Assumption shows us too that when our life on earth comes to an end, God too wants us to receive the gift of the glory of heaven and live with Him and all the saints for all eternity. How does this Truth of the reality of heaven affect our lives, you may ask? The answer is simple; heaven should affect every aspect of our daily living, and this is what our celebration of today’s Solemnity hopes to achieve in us and transform us.
There is a true story of Garvan Byrne a ten year old boy who was born with a very rare and fatal bone marrow disease, and was very close to dying. He was interviewed by Sr Francis Dominica the Mother founder of a children’s hospice, in England. For our homily, I have taken an extract of the televised interview which can be watched on u-tube.
Garvan: I was on steroid for the first 5 years of my life; and well . . . at 10 years old; they took me off them because I had a liver hemorrhage and they found that that was the cause of the problem.
Sister: What is your illness called?
Garvan: Fanconi Anaemia. It is a very rare bone marrow disease.
Sister: Did your mummy tell you about it?
Garvan: Yes she did, and she help me to get used to my problem; gave me confidence when I was down and . . . I just went on from there . . .
Sister: When you found out that you were going to die Garvan, were you frightened?
Garvan: At first I was very frightened, yes I must admit. It was a very frightening thing.
Sister: How do you feel about it now?
Garvan: Much better . . . well, I feel sort of . . . almost as if I want to go there because I believe that there is a life after death.
Sister: What do you believe that, that life is like?
Garvan: I believe that life (in heaven) to be . . . joyful, happy, no pain, the complete suffering is over and done with; just complete joy and happiness. I believe in Christ the loving Jesus, and this loving Jesus whom I love is a special friend to me . . . I always believe He has His arm outstretched to me whenever I am in trouble.
Sister: What do you think happens to your body when you die?
Garvan: I will leave it behind. This is only a reflection. This is only a sort of tag to say this is Garvan, this is me.
Sister: So you can recognize it?
Garvan: Yes. And then the real me when I die that reflection will be faded, left behind. And the real me, that inner self me . . . will be out of that reflection and will go out to God. I always believe that (death) is just like heaven, and God (will be) saying to you “Shut your eyes” and just go to sleep. And next, when you open your eyes, you find you are in lovely place, so beautiful you that you want to stay there and be with Jesus forever. And all my friends whom I knew down on this earth, whom I believe have gone to God. . . . and I hope when my time will comes, I shall see them . . . and go up and say hello to whoever I have lost . . . like I never saw my grandma Dougherty . . . and I hope to see her in heaven, . . . my grandpa and some of my aunties, my uncle Christi whom I used to know down here very well and I will meet all those people back up there.
Sister: And how do you think it will be with the people you leave behind? Will you feel very far away from them . . . separate from them or not?
Garvan: Yes, it is very difficult, but I believe that Christ will look after my family and whatever needs they have. I believe He will provide for them and I shall also look down (from heaven) and be there (for them); and it’s like “when two are more are gathered there I am in the mist of them” and I will be there in the mist of my family, they might not see me, but I will be there watching them, looking after them all the time.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s celebration of the solemnity of Mary’s Assumption is a celebration of HOPE; the true hope of our Lord’s Victory over sin and death, and therefore an end to all our earthly suffering and pain and the beginning of an existence of bliss with God where there is the divine Peace, Happiness and Glory with God for all eternity. The true story of our ten year old Garvan testifies, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to this true HOPE of our faith in Jesus Christ who is our Lord and Saviour.
We know that all of these Truth of our Faith is a divine mystery that is beyond our human comprehension, while we continue to live our lives on earth. However, as in Garvan’s testimony, this HOPE must permeate our hearts and be incarnated into the daily experiences of our earthly life; more so when we are experiencing the varied challenges, pain, suffering, trials and temptations of our lives, whatever they may be.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, if we ponder on the profound and Spirit inspired words of Mary’s Magnificat Prayer that we just heard proclaimed, we will begin to see the pattern of how God works in our lives and in the world, as He did in Mary’s life and in Garvan’s life. In the “Magnificat Prayer”, Mary proclaims, “My soul rejoices in God my Saviour; He has looked upon His lowly handmaid; He has done great things for me. Holy is His name.” In these few phrases of Mary, we see that God has a preferential love for the “simple and lowly”; whether it is Mary, a young girl in Galilee or Garvan a young boy who is sick and dying.
The “Magnificat” then continues, “His mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear Him. He has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry He has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away . . .” With these words, God challenges, humbles and defeats the proud, the powerful, the oppressors and the haughty. And how does God achieve such victory? The ways of God is totally different from the ways of sinful men and women. God our Lord achieves victory over the powerful, and all sin and death of humanity not through enforcing His divine power that can easily wipe out the entire race of humankind, but on the contrary, “God conquers humankind” through His weakness, simplicity, suffering and Death on the Cross; and only then through His Resurrection three days later.
Mary’s victory likewise was through Her simplicity, and more importantly through her obedience and fidelity to the Father’s Will, regardless of how painful and sorrowful Her sufferings may be. Gavan in our true story too, overcame the pain of his illness and the fears of death through his deep faith in the Truth of heaven that awaits him when he dies.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, finally, let us remind ourselves that in the reality of our lives and in everything that happens, there are two basic realities: first, the exterior visible happenings and second, the interior and invisible presence of God.
Externally, we see much sufferings in the world; we even see how the powerful, the proud and the sinners are seemingly succeeding in controlling the world, having a good time, and benefiting from the material wealth and the comforts and securities of life that is being generated. However, internally, let us not forget that God’s Presence, God’s Providence and God’s Will are also constantly at work.
If we reflect on the lives of Jesus, Mary and Garvan, the common pattern we see is that God’s Presence, Power and Providence often works through our weaknesses, our pains and sufferings in life. In suffering, externally, we seem to be defeated. Externally, Jesus was crucified as a criminal, Mary was devastated at Her Son’s cruel death and Garvan was inflicted with terminal illness at the age of only ten.
However, internally, the divine power of God has already gained victory over the powers, pride and sins of this world. Internally, God’s victory is already experienced in the deep Peace and true Hope that is found at the core of one’s sufferings and crosses of our lives, and most importantly, the certitude of the gift of heaven that awaits us when we live the Good News of Salvation in our daily living, as Jesus, Mary and Garvan have shown us.
In other words and as I conclude, let us remember that when we are able to live in such divine wisdom that draws us beyond our external pain and sufferings of life and be connected to the interior Presence, Power and Providence of God in our lives, we will in Truth be experiencing the graces of today’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Brothers and Sisters, let us not short change ourselves, let us open our hearts and minds to these graces that God wants to give us today. . . for God wants all of us to live a Christ-centred life now and gain the gift of eternal happiness that awaits us. This is the celebration of the true HOPE that today’s Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary wants us to experience.
Source: Amended Version of the video clip: Garvan Byrne
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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