Although this may sound contrived, every word of this is true. While attending the Memorial Day ordination weekend in May 2018 of a former classmate, Father Ed Shikina, in the diocese of Columbus, Ohio, a number of us priests, seminarians, and others had decided to go for a Rosary walk by a stream in one of Columbus’ public parks.
We were led by another former classmate of mine, Father Dan Olvera, also of Columbus, who wore a cassock that day, with a pair of Rosary beads hanging from the waist, as he usually does. One guy in our party, my friend John who had accompanied me on the trip, decided not to take the walk as he was still recovering from foot surgery, and instead sat on a park bench near the parking lot to pray the Rosary on his own as he waited for us.
John, while praying the Rosary on his beads, was approached by a woman in a party of two, a complete stranger who started in with him about how the Rosary was basically useless. “You know, none of that is true,” is what she more or less said to John, very insistently. “You just have to follow the Scriptures. All you have to do is pray to Jesus. Mary is in her grave just like everybody else. She was just a woman. None of that Mother of God stuff is true.”
My friend John, who is actually a convert to the faith from non-denominational Protestantism got into an exchange with her as she kept insisting that Mary was just a regular woman who is in a grave somewhere, asking, “If Mary died and was buried just like everyone else is, where is her grave? … And don’t you think the grave would be well-known and well-visited if it existed?”
Here is the clincher. As John and this stranger in this public park were getting into their debate, emerging from the woods were the men in black, 10 or so of us priests and seminarians and others, all praying the Rosary, led by Father Dan in his imposing black cassock with Rosary beads drawn. It was like a scene out of the Matrix.
The woman ended the debate as she saw the army approaching, decked out in black, looking formidable (but of course completely harmless). As she retreated, the woman did a double-take. As we approached John and she walked away, I remember her turning to look back at us, in disbelief of what was transpiring in front of her — all of which was not on the grounds of a seminary or a religious shrine, but in a completely random, secular park.
This incident stands to remind me of the truths of our faith that are confirmed for us when we trust our Church fathers and the wisdom of the Magisterium and allow things to unfold around us. Today, in particular, we look to the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, which defines the dogma of the Assumption of Mary and was promulgated November 1, 1950. Pope Pius XII writes the Assumption of Mary is “intimately connected with [other] revealed truths,” and that “scholastic theologians … have always considered it worthy of note that this privilege of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption is in wonderful accord with those divine truths given us in Holy Scripture” (p 23, 24).
Apropos to today’s readings, Pope Pius XII stresses “the scholastic Doctors have recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as something signified, not only in various figures of the Old Testament but also in that woman clothed with the sun whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos. Similarly, they have given special attention to these words of the New Testament: ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women,’ since they saw, in the mystery of the Assumption, the fulfillment of that most perfect grace granted to the Blessed Virgin and the special blessing that countered the curse of Eve” (paragraph 27).
Finally, he writes that “during the earliest period of scholastic theology, that most pious man, Amadeus, Bishop of Lausarme, held that the Virgin Mary’s flesh had remained incorrupt-for it is wrong to believe that her body has seen corruption-because it was really united again to her soul and, together with it, crowned with great glory in the heavenly courts. ‘For she was full of grace and blessed among women. She alone merited to conceive the true God of true God, whom as a virgin, she brought forth, to whom as a virgin she gave milk, fondling him in her lap, and in all things she waited upon him with loving care.’ ” (p 28).
Despite the pronouncements of that woman in the park that day, we Catholics uphold the paramount role Mary plays in salvation history, and emphatically seek her powerful intercession — beholding and looking to our incorruptible Mother, Mary, as Christ instructs us to, from His Cross. Munificentissimus Deus beautifully summarizes, “It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all the members of this august body.
And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined.
Finally, it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective” (p 42).
Readings for Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Revelation: 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
1 Corinthians: 15:20-27
Father Panicali is the parochial vicar for St. Mark-St. Margaret Mary Parish, Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach, and local chaplain of Rosary for Life.