A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Up, Up to Heaven

By Fr Patrick Brophy SM

I can remember watching the first moon landing. It was probably a few days after the event. There was no capacity to stream live TV in New Zealand in 1969. Someone had to fly to Australia to get a copy of the video for broadcast. The lunar landing grabbed our attention and that of the whole planet. From that moment many thought that the ‘final frontier’ would be conquered and we would travel to other planets and solar systems. Programmes such as Star Trek and films such as Star Wars opened our imagination to other worlds. We wanted to be taken out of our humdrum lives and go to other places, other worlds, other existences. Human beings have always had a bit of an obsession with the heavens – and of escaping this world:
“I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…”
Royal Canadian Air Force pilot John Gillespie McGee wrote his poem ‘High Flight’ a few weeks before he died in a mid-air collision during World War II (see inside cover).
Humankind has always sought God in the heavens, in space, in the vastness of our solar system and the universe. This is, after all, God’s creation. Upwards is where heaven is. Heaven is in the heavens. We know this to be not entirely accurate, but to our limited intellect it seems apposite.
“And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”
Human beings have always wanted to be with God, up there in heaven, within touching distance. In the Old Testament Enoch walked with God, presumably taken up into heaven. Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. In Islam, Mohammed leapt to heaven – leaving his footprint on a rock still venerated in the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. For non-monotheistic religions, prophets and holy men and women go up to where the gods dwell. Wanting relief from the grind of our world seems to be a universal human desire. And, of course, Jesus ascended to heaven, to his Father.
In this month of August we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Mary is taken body and soul into heaven. New Zealand was consecrated to Mary, assumed into Heaven by bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier on the 13th of January, 1838 at the first Mass celebrated in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Its importance for the nation is underlined by the feast remaining a Holy Day. The Assumption of Mary is significant in the life of our nation.
Beyond a historical event, why is the Assumption of Mary so important? Is being taken to heaven body and soul solely an honour we think God affords to the greatest saint that ever lived?
Mary was so honoured because she is the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Her relationship with the divine person, Jesus Christ, is real, through motherhood. It is not a spiritual adoption such as we enjoy. It is about the flesh! Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. If only her soul had gone to heaven, she would be no different from all those other souls admitted to heaven.
We are not angels – no, I don’t mean we’re not always well behaved. Angels are pure spirit; they have no physical body despite popular depictions of them. We do have a body. Mary’s assumption reminds us God’s salvation is holistic. God saves all of our humanity, body and soul. The resurrection is a physical one. We know that Jesus bodily rose from the dead and bodily ascended to heaven. Mary’s assumption to heaven underlines that the resurrection of the body is not limited to the Lord. If Mary, body and soul, can get to heaven then so can we! There, we too, hope to be among those who have “wheeled, and soared and swung, high in the sunlit silence… and touched God’s face.”
The Assumption has implications beyond heaven. As St Paul commented: “…creation will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Our faith is not just concerned with the heavenly realm. We are earthy creatures but, along with creation, destined for wholeness in heaven. Our bodies and our world are important here and now; here on this earth. Respect for our bodies and creation; how we treat them, how we care for them, flows into not just making sure they last us here on earth, but also because we will have them, suitably glorified, in heaven! In the Assumption we are reminded that the duality of heaven and earth is really one existence.
The Assumption of Mary into heaven also meant our spiritual mother achieved that wholeness. She is uniquely situated to intercede for us, to help us to grow as adopted sons and daughters of her Son, Jesus; to enter into wholeness.
Mary, with a mother’s touch first caressed the face of the divine person, her baby Son Jesus. Later God enabled Mary to “slip the surly bonds” of the cares and limits of this world, tread “the high untrespassed sanctity of space”, “and touch the face of God.”

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