Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

The Triumph of Grace

August 18, 2013

On August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, I will celebrate Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, in Champion, Wisconsin, a few miles outside of Green Bay.  The Bishop of Green Bay, Bishop David Ricken, invited me to come on this feast day to a place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in 1859 to a young immigrant from Belgium, Adele Brise.  Mary expressed to Adele her concern that children were in danger of losing the Catholic faith into which they had been baptized in Europe because there was no one in their new country to show children how to love Jesus and teach them the truths of religion.  Adele and several other young women began to teach catechism to children and to live together in a form of religious community. 

Since Bishop Ricken recognized the authenticity of the apparition in 2010, the small chapel at the site of Mary’s appearance in the midst of rich Wisconsin farmland has become a more frequented place of pilgrimage and popular devotion.  On August 15, the mystery of faith that will be celebrated is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven.  What are we taught by this revealed truth?

Mary’s life and its purpose are entirely subservient to God’s plan for the salvation of the world.  The need for salvation begins with the turning away from the ways of the Lord at the very beginnings of the human race.  We were all taught the story in the Book of Genesis, summed up in a poem by a recently deceased Dominican friar from Chicago, Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P.:

The contrast between fatal apple and fatal tomb, between Eve and Mary, is the contrast between sin and grace, between life lived according to God’s ways and life lived in Adam’s desire to be free apart from God’s ways.  The contest between the apple and the tomb, between sin and grace, is lived in each of us, personally and socially.  We are people of desire, like Adam, like Jesus.  The distortion of desire, however, leads us into disordered ways, on paths that lead to death.  We are people of desire; Jesus was not a stoic.  We have deep desires and we must pray to desire deeply so that what God desires, our salvation, will be our desire as well.

The distortion of desire that we call sin unfortunately marks our experience, but it does not have to deform our life.  The proof of that is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She is completely like us, except that she was saved before she sinned.  She is, as a French poet once wrote, “younger than sin.”

Because Mary is “younger than sin,” she is personally free in ways that we have not experienced.  We sometimes look for signs of God’s presence or his will in miracles, even in apparitions.  Physical miracles show us for a moment what the world would be like if sin had never marked its history.  The curtain parts and we see a world without disease, a world where the lamb and the lion lie down together: matter obeys God’s will.  But far greater are the moral miracles that show us what we would all be like if sin had never marked human history: the human will perfectly obeys God’s will.  Mary desired and willed only what God wanted for her and the human race.  Her life was a triumph of grace over sin, and in her death she did not suffer the consequences of sin.  She, in imitation of her divine Son, was assumed into heaven.

On August 15 we can contemplate the wonder of God’s grace, completely effective in the life, death and assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and effective in many fits and starts also in ourselves.  For the wonder of God’s grace is not only that our life itself has changed but that, once graced, we are able to cooperate with God.  Through the gift of grace, we become co-workers with God.  He can use us to help work out his will for the salvation of the world.  This work of salvation is not a response to an external command but the result of the inner dynamic of love.

God is closer to us than we are to ourselves; not only as the cause of our very being but also as the source of the good works that contribute to our sanctification.  We are transformed by God’s grace.  Looking at Mary assumed into heaven we see the promise of our own future.  We do not yet know how the world will be transformed at the end of time, when death will be fully conquered and grace will completely triumph.  But we can know now how beautiful Mary is.  In her there is no inordinate desire, there are no disordered ways.  I like to think she also looks at us and notices how beautiful we are as brothers and sisters of her Son.  She notices that God can count on us to walk in his ways and rejoices as grace drives out sin in our experience.  This August 15, let us make Mary’s heart rejoice.