In our second reading at Sunday Mass, we hear some of St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11. St. Paul praises the heroic faith of the ancestors of the Messiah. We hear this sentence: “Abraham prepared to sacrifice his only son Isaac, reasoning that God could raise the dead.” [Spanish]
Maybe you remember that we focused on this, on Palm Sunday: Abraham’s faith in God’s power to raise the dead. That day we heard in the gospel reading about the repentant thief who said to Christ, as the Lord hung on the cross: “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”
Only the faith of Abraham could have moved the thief to ask such a favor. After all, what kingdom could he possibly mean? Here’s a poor rabbi, dying unjustly in agony, with no prospects of any kind. No kingdom to hope for. Except if you reason that God can raise the dead.
We hear some more of Hebrews 11 Sunday morning. By faith Abraham set forth from his home and dwelt in a tent in the fields. Because he had his heart set on the heavenly city, prepared by God. By faith Sarah conceived a child, even though she had lived barren, way past her child-bearing years. By faith Sarah become the mother of countless descendants. The mother of God’s chosen people, the people that gave the world the Messiah.
Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. Then it actually happened; God exercised that power.
That’s why we frequent the local church building. That’s why we honor the Lord’s day on Sunday, the day of the Christ’s resurrection. That’s why the Holy Mass gives grace, gives life—because the sacrifice of the altar gives us the flesh and blood of Jesus, risen from the dead by the infinite power of God.
It’s also why we don’t just honor Abraham’s wife Sarah as our mother in faith. Sarah conceived by faith, to be sure, as St. Paul put it in Hebrews 11. But another lady conceived by an altogether more sublime faith. A virgin. And she gave birth to the child that Sarah’s son Isaac prefigured.
Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, reasoning that God could raise the dead. But then the angel stayed Abraham’s hand. In the fullness of time, God accepted the sacrifice of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Son. She stood by His cross and offered herself to the Father along with Him. The Blessed Mother offered herself with pure faith in God’s plan. Reasoning that God can raise the dead.
Thursday we will keep the Solemnity of the final fulfillment of Our Lady’s faith. When Jesus, risen from the dead, raised His mother up to heaven. Raised her up to the eternal city, whose architect and maker is God.
The Solemnity of August 15 lifts our minds up to the final goal and spurs us on in hope and confidence. But it’s also a rough anniversary this year. Yes, fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock. But that’s not what I mean. As Providence would have it, exactly one year ago, on Assumption Day, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury released its crushingly damning report on abuse in the Church.
If we read widely, we can find two basic accounts of what has happened since then. According to one version of the history of the past year: the grand-jury report unfairly published old news as if it were new. The bishops had actually fixed the problem seventeen years ago. And the pope and bishops have shown even more decisive leadership during the last year.
Another account sees something different: An institution in the grips of a problem it appears unable to solve, because the entire leadership is compromised. This second point-of-view has multiple versions, casting blame on homosexuality, or abuse of power, or on a communist plot to infiltrate the Church.
Let’s thank the good Lord that, in the midst of all this, He has kept us close to Himself. He has continued to pour out the grace of faith, faith in His only-begotten Son. He has kept us in His Church–not by blinding our eyes to the problems, but by rooting us so firmly in our faith in Christ that we can face the problems honestly.
When the Lord drew our Lady up to heaven, He freed her completely from all the pain and confusion of this fallen world. He united her with the truth about God’s love. And the truth about herself. That she was made for eternal love. He made us for eternal love, too.
We exist because of God’s all-conquering love. He formed us out of nothing, so that we could give Him glory, by becoming ourselves in full. By trusting God enough to step forward without fear, into the future He has prepared for us.
On Good Friday, the thief said, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” As he said that, Mary stood there, quietly offering her broken heart to the heavenly Father. She trusted in God’s Providence even at the moment when her only son died. Both the repentant thief on his cross next to Christ’s, and our Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross–they both thought along similar lines: They reasoned that God can raise the dead.
Having that kind of faith opens up a road before us. A road that leads to a city with celestial foundations. A city free of abuses, of cover-ups, of lies, of confusion. A city free of shootings and violence. The city of peace and truth. Faith in Christ lead us to the city whose architect and maker is God.