The world is currently embroiled in the Olympics. In every sport,
technology has intervened to provide athletes with as much of a
competitive advantage as the rulebook will allow. New suits help
swimmers shave one tenth of a second off of their times. Special
shoes help long jumpers achieve an extra quarter of an inch on their
jumps. Oxygen deprivation tents help marathoners move up one or
two places at the end of their races. Experimental diets and wired
workout machines help athletes learn about their metabolic rhythms
and how to keep themselves as fit as possible before, during, and
after their events.
But this technology does not come without a cost. High-tech research,
development, and training are prohibitively expensive, so much so
that the Olympic Games are in danger of becoming a showcase of competition
among the haves, with little or no recognition of the efforts put
forth by the have-nots.
That is why we cannot help but relish those rare times when an “unknown”
athlete, perhaps from a poorer country, with little technological
assistance, arises in his or her sport to unexpectedly take the
It is against this backdrop that I read today’s readings,
all of which support the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed
The three readings give us entirely different views of the Blessed
Mother. The first reading, from Revelations, shows us a woman about
to give birth before a horrific dragon, which is poised to devour
her newly-born child. Hollywood could not give us a more striking
representation of the cosmic significance of Mary’s act of
acceptance. The second reading reveals Jesus as “firstfruits,”
promising that the fruit of Mary’s womb will overcome every
authority and power, even death itself. And finally, the Gospel
passage lets us all inside the simple human reality of Mary’s
existence, where the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaps at her
approach. What follows is, to me, the most poetically rich passage
of the Bible.
We love these images for the same reason that we love to cheer on
the “underdogs” at the Olympics.
Like the Olympic athletes who were not “supposed” to
take the medal stand, this young woman of simple means was not “supposed”
to be the Mother of God, at least by most accounts. I cannot help
but think that if a list of likely candidates for the position had
been drawn up in that day, she most likely would not have been on
And therein lies the root of the Christian message: the proud are
scattered, the mighty are cast down from their thrones, the lowly
are lifted, the hungry are filled with good things, and the rich
are sent away empty.
Mary became the Mother of God because she – among all women
– did not expect to be. She lived her simple daily life in
the best way that she knew how, and the angel came to her –
she did not go to him. However, when her time came to “step
up” and accept the call, she did so with a confidence and
grace that only years of humble and quiet preparation could provide.
I don’t know about you, but this gives me great hope. It tells
me that Grace is not bought or sold. It is not a prize that goes
to the disciple with the most time to pray or the best retreat team.
Nor is it a popularity contest where certain backroom agreements
predetermine the outcome.
The more humble, the more meager, the more lamentable a human’s
circumstances, the more likely that God will enter those circumstances
to usher in the light of Christ.
And that is good news for all of us. Because if we have to rely
purely on our efforts, then no matter how much we pray, no matter
how much we try to live the Beatitudes, no matter how often and
how intently we answer the call, there will always be someone out
there who can do it just a little better than we can. Luckily enough
for us, our relationship with God is not a competitive sport. It’s
a partnership. There will never be anyone more qualified to undertake
what God has in store for us than we are.
Enjoy the remainder of the games!