Thursday, August 16, 2012

New Men Gather for the Assumption

Last evening a group of the "new men" at Saint John's Seminary gathered informally for a Mass on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven here at Saint John's followed by a light supper.

Here's the homily I preached on Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant.

Welcome, my brothers and my sons.  Welcome to your new home, a place where  God works wonders in the hearts of men who seek to do his will and to see his face.

And how wonderful that we are able to gather on this great feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.  For among her many titles, the Mother of Jesus has been called “Mother of Priests.”  Pope Benedict XVI, in speaking to seminarians at world youth day in 2011, commended all seminarians to Mary’s tender care, reminding them that “she will know how to mould your hearts according to the model of Christ, her divine Son, and she will teach you how to treasure for ever all that he gained on Calvary for the salvation of the world.”

But not only is Mary, Mother of Priests, but we are also reminded on this feast of the title most closely associated with the Assumption for the past fifteen centuries: Mary, Ark of the New Covenant.

What does this title mean?  Well we might begin by asked what the Ark of the Old Covenant was.  First of all, it had nothing to do with Noah.  That’s a different ark.  This ark was built by after Moses, who received the tablets on which God had written the ten commandments. God told him to put them into a box of acacia wood, plate it with gold, and keep it in the tent of meeting behind heavy curtains, as the tabernacle where God would come to reveal himself.  (cf. Ex. 25–27).

Later, King David built the Temple in Jerusalem to to enshrine the Ark.  But first he placed to new sacred objects in the Ark along with the stone tablets: a jar of the manna with which God had fed the chosen people in the desert, and the staff of Aaron, the High Priest.  

Curiously, we are told that when David had completed the temple and went to get the Ark, he was so overwhelmed at it's great power that he cried out: "How can the ark of the Lord come to me?" And finally, when the ark was finally being carried up to the temple on Mount Zion it was King David who led the way, dancing for joy.

Now notice the parallels with the Mother of God.  Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, who carries within her womb something more than tablets with ten words from God.  She carries the Word of God made flesh, the one who is all truth, 

Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, who carries within her womb something more than the manna which fed the chosen people in the desert.  She carries within the Bread from Heaven, the bread of eternal life, the food without which no man can live (cf. John 6)

Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, who carries within her womb something more than the symbol of Aaron’s High Priesthood.  She carries the Christ, the great High Priest of the new and eternal covenant to be offered in his own blood.

This is why when Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, John the Baptist dances in his mother's womb like David before the ark.  And this is the meaning of Elizabeth's greeting, in words almost identical to David's before the Ark: "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (cf. 2 Sam 6:9 and Luke 1:43.)

And we see the same thing in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, written by Saint John the Apostle, the one whom tradition tells us took care of the Blessed Virgin until she fell asleep and was assumed into heaven.  At the end of the eleventh chapter of his apocalypse, John describes a vision in which God's temple in heaven is opened, and the Ark of the Covenant is."  The next words John writes, at the beginning of what would later be designated as chapter twelve, are these: "And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child." (Rev. 12:1–2). The woman is Mary, the Ark of the Covenant, whose assumption would be witnessed by the writer of these words.

Thus the Bible begins with a real woman and a real man, and ends with a real woman and a real man: the old Eve and the old Adam, the parents of selfishness and sin and death.  And the new Adam, the Christ, through whose death we know life and by whose blood the original inheritance if sin has been washed away. And the New Eve, the last woman of the scriptures, who bore the Word in her womb, the Ark of our Salvation.

So, in the words of Saint Athanasius, 'let us praise the noble Virgin...truly greater than any greatness....this dwelling place of God the Word....the Ark of the new covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold!  For this ark is the golden vessel containing the true manna, the flesh in which divinity resides.' (Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin.)

Monsignor James P. Moroney