We are familiar with the strong emphasis given these days to being healthy and fit. People are responding to this in large numbers, often through membership in fitness clubs. These places are filled with many kinds of wonderful exercise machines, like treadmills and stationary bicycles that can give a good workout. If you go in to one of these places you see a very interesting sight: people using the machines are running like mad, peddling like crazy, rowing for all they’re worth … and everyone is going absolutely nowhere. People get totally exhausted but there’s no movement, no direction.
It’s a good analogy for the times in which we find ourselves. We live in a treadmill society. People are very busy, caught up in all kinds of activities, without having any sense of where it is all going. When we lack a sense of direction, we lose meaning and purpose, and that can give way to confusion, anxiety, even despair.
Yesterday the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption, which teaches that life does, in fact, have a destination, that we are moving in a certain direction. It is a dogma of the faith that Mary, at the end of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven. Because of her unique relation with her son Jesus, and the distinctive role she played in the history of salvation, Mary was given the singular privilege of being preserved from the corruption of the tomb. Although this blessing sets her apart from all others in a wondrous and beautiful way, nevertheless the destination of glory is one that she shares with all of humanity. As St. Paul teaches us in First Corinthians (cf. 1Cor.15:20-27), in Christ all shall be brought to life. Mary’s assumption is a sign that reminds all of us of the destiny that awaits Gods faithful people. In the words of the preface for the Mass, Mary’s assumption is “a sign of hope and comfort for God’s people on their pilgrim way”.
Our world needs this message of hope today. Like you, I am deeply troubled and saddened by the hurt and violence that is prevalent. It is present in families, in communities, and among nations. Reasons for this are multiple, but I believe a common source of so many of our problems today is fear, the fear that arises from a treadmill existence, the fear that is born in the heart when we have no sense of direction and hence no grasp of purpose or meaning. This fear turns us in upon ourselves and drives us to try and assert some control over our lives. This turns us away from others, sometimes against others, as we defensively try to protect ourselves against a world that seems very hostile and foreboding.
The antidote to this fear is trust, first and foremost in the love and nearness of God. Such trust frees us from anxiety, and fear is replaced by hope, joy and freedom to care for others.
Mary assures us that God is worthy of our trust. The Magnificat proclaimed in the Gospel (cf. Luke 1:39-56) is her great response to her encounter with God through the angel Gabriel. She had announced to her that God, faithful to his promises, was about to come to save his people from all that threatened them and their destiny, that he would do so by sending his Son, and that she would have a unique role to play in that plan of salvation by giving birth to the Saviour. Mary believed in the Word of God, she placed her entire trust in his promise, and gave her fiat: “be it done unto me according to your word.” From this trust, from this unconditional surrender to the love and the plan of God there arose in Mary a deep joy: “My spirit rejoices,” she said, “in God my savior.” This joy moved her to service. She ran in haste to help her cousin Elizabeth, who was with child.
Joy, freedom, service – these arise when we accept the truth that God exists, that God calls us to himself, that God is at work in our lives to lead us to our destiny, and that God is always faithful to his promises. When we seek to eclipse God from our lives and surrender to a treadmill existence the result is the opposite: fear and its attendant consequences: competition, isolation and violence.
Please join me in prayer that, with the help of the Blessed Virgin’s intercession, trust in the love and nearness of God will take root in the hearts of people today. May this confidence awaken all from the sleep of a treadmill existence to the truth of God’s loving plan for humanity. Trust in the fidelity and closeness of God can transform the anxiety and hurt experienced by many into the joy, peace and freedom that God wills for all of his children.