Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Revelations 11:19; 12:1-6, 10, 1 Corinthians 15:20-27, Luke 1:39-56
I never really cared for the music of Frank Sinatra when I was growing up. It’s not that I didn’t think his music was okay. The real issue was that, like most adolescents, I liked what my friends liked and what was popular at the time. My dad really liked Sinatra, and of course that made it “old people’s music.” You know how it is with kids. Now that I’m “old” – just ask my son – I have gained an appreciation for Sinatra's music and can really appreciate his talents and the great arrangements that he pulled off on his classics. There is one song, however, that, while I like the melody, the lyrics cause me to cringe – the song “My Way.”
The sentiment behind the song is understandable to any accomplished adult. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, it is about a person in their waning years who looks back on his life and proudly states that he did “it all and … stood tall and did it my way.” The person admits to some failures, but says they were few, and otherwise succeeded in doing everything he wanted to do, and the way he wanted to do it. It is the end of the song that always pokes at me. It says, “For what is a man, what has he got? / If not himself, then he has naught / To say the things he truly feels / And not the words of one who kneels.” This, and a few other lyrics veer into a self-indulgent fantasy that he did all the things in his life because of his own efforts. He acknowledges no one else, not his family, not his teachers, not his friends, and most noticeably not God.
What a difference when compared with our Gospel reading today. Mary and Elizabeth, both recently having conceived a child, greet each other with blessing of each other and God in thanksgiving of what God has given them. Mary, far from being boastful, calls herself a lowly servant. Mary, far from attributing all her advantages to her own actions, gives all credit to God, who has done “great things.” Elizabeth, far from thinking that she deserved her place in the Incarnation, humbly asks why such wonderful things have happened to her. These are clearly words of “one who kneels.” Mary's humble acceptance of the lot God has bestowed on her is as close to a perfect prayer that you can get, and of course is what we know today as the Canticle of Mary, or the Magnificat, said by all clergy and religious every evening during the Liturgy of the Hours. Elizabeth's husband will also, a few verses later in the same chapter of Luke as today's Gospel reading, will also give thanks to God in another beautiful prayer, the Canticle of Zechariah, also known as the Benedictus, for the gift of the Incarnation to the people of Israel and the role his son John the Baptist will play in it.
On this day in which Mary was assumed into heaven, Mary could tell us if she appeared here today that this was the crowning achievement of a life, like the prophets Elijah and Enoch who were also assumed into heaven before her, and that it so outstrips anything the singer of My Way could possibly have accomplished as to be laughable. But rather than point to herself, she has always pointed to her Son, both in her life as well as in her statements to those that have seen apparitions of her over the centuries. For this service to Christ and for her humility, we remember Mary two thousand years after her life. For his actions, the singer of “My Way” will almost probably not.
It is fitting that we have the example of Mary and Elizabeth as a guide on the same day that we are blessing the students who are soon to return to school at the start of this new school year. A proper education at any level not only teaches the basic facts in the various academic areas such as math, science, and history, but also should include the duties of a true Christian and the moral standards in which the teaching of Christ are embedded. It must also teach what gives true joy in life, and Mary is also an example of this. She quietly did the will of God, took the good with the bad, and was rewarded by God with true joy that comes from this and only from this, both in this life and the next. Father Oscar will call down the blessing of God onto these students, and we will all pray that the Lord will bring the same joy that Mary had into their lives through a true understanding of what is important and what is not. The next time you listen to “My Way,” try to find evidence of joy in the song. You will find many things, including pride, tenacity, and ambition if you want to like the singer, or arrogance, stubbornness, and vanity if you don't, but one thing you will not see is any joy in his accomplishments. You almost hear a plea that the listener will admire the singer and the things that he has accomplished so as to validate that life. We should all pray that students will learn true wisdom in life, that their teachers and parents will be able to impart these lessons, and that the administrators will foster a culture of Christian values in all centers of learning.
Now, let me say before I get accosted by Frank Sinatra fans as you leave the Mass today, that Frank did not write this song, and moreover his daughter Tina said that her father came to hate the song. She told the BBC: "He didn't like it…. He always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent." A life-long Catholic, Sinatra did many things which were truly exemplary to help others. A life-long human, he made his share of mistakes. We all would do well to follow the follow the example of Mary in carrying out the will of the Lord and ignore the allure of being boastful and ungrateful which the song that Frank made famous epitomizes.
As we continue with the liturgy of the Eucharist, let us follow the lead of Mary and welcome Christ to be with us, in the sacrament and in our lives. Let us seek His help in being a humble servant of His will. Let us be one who bends our knee to God in respect and the discipline that is necessary to truly be joyful disciples, just as Mary was.