Every now and again I find myself standing in front of the bathroom mirror just staring at my face. I know you all do that, too, although not all of you are willing to admit it. I stand there in the glare of unforgiving incandescent lights and imagine everything people might see when they look at me. And just as you all would, I see so much more than meets anyone else’s eye. It can get quite depressing if my mind wasn’t distracted with preparing for a meeting with the bishop in a couple of days or wondering what’s for dinner. And sometimes, when I get particularly brave, I stand in front of a full length mirror. I advise you not to try imagining that. But if you choose to imagine that, try imagining yourself in front of a full length mirror. Now tell me that’s not even funnier. I am convinced our eyes all see the same things, particular details we can only talk about with health-care professionals. We see things we’re not happy about, and things we wish were different, and things we might work on so no one else notices. We may find it difficult to imagine that the beautiful people on TV and the movies might ever think the things we think when they look at themselves in the mirror. They may not like what they see occasionally. But most of the time, they probably think they look mah-ve-lous.
But we believe that all things physical and material will not endure beyond this earthly existence. The world as we know it and everything in it must pass away. And every now and again, that sounds like a wonderful idea, considering what our eyes have seen. We believe genuine beauty and goodness lie deeper within us, that that which is invisible to the eye is destined to endure. We believe that in the next life, we will be raised above the physical limitations we know now. No more spare tire, no more flab, no more wrinkles and creases, no more unsightly bumps, rashes and blemishes, no more tightness or creaking in the joints, no more sagging body parts, no more stray patches of hair. Forgive me.
Instead we imagine a full head of thick, vibrant, shiny hair, an even tan, a flawless complexion, firm and toned muscle groups, a perfect gleaming smile, and a better weight-to-height ratio than we possess right now. I suppose that’s all just speculation really since none of us truly know what we will look like in the life to come. So while we put up with our imperfect and flawed bodies, our physical limitations and the consequences of earth’s gravitational pull, we rejoice that our physical bodies will be transformed before we partake of everlasting life.
But our physical bodies are necessary to who we are as persons. We are not simply composites of body and spirit, as though only one component is essential and the other superfluous. Rather enough of what we possess now must be joined with our spirits at the end of time to faithfully constitute the same person we are in this life. Just as Jesus after his resurrection still bore the marks of his crucifixion, so we will still bear those marks and characteristics that are essential to our person. But maybe you get to pick which ones you want to keep.
The feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary serves to remind us of the glory that is prepared in the life to come for those who remain faithful. She was set apart by God for a special purpose. Yet despite God’s special favor in her regard, she had still to contend with the same physical existence with which we are familiar, along with the drudgery of recurring chores, the care and safety of her household, the inconveniences of temperature, humidity and flying insects, the social, religious and cultural limitations of her time, the absence of modern technology and medicine, and a host of concerns that made up daily life in her home with Joseph and Jesus. She was no pampered celebrity, no dainty little sideshow in some royal palace. Instead, she was a loyal daughter, a faithful spouse and a dedicated mother. The longed-for messiah may have been her son, but she still had to sweep the floor and prepare the meals they ate. She may have carried God in her womb for nine months, but she still had to draw water at the communal well and shop at the local market. She was grateful for the blessings of life and generous in her service of others. She sought no honors nor tributes for her role in human history. But above all, “she courageously withstood the deepest and most mysterious of human sufferings and doubts [while] remaining essentially faithful to God.” (Reynolds R. Ekstrom, in New Concise Catholic Dictionary; revised edition [Mystic CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1995] p166) We honor her not solely for giving birth to God’s eternal Son, but also for giving witness to God’s enduring mercy by her daily example of faithful discipleship. There will never be more than one chosen to be mother of the messiah. But we can imitate her faithful witness in our daily lives, and like her, rise above the limits of this earthly existence.
God honored the Virgin Mary’s body by preserving her from corruption and decay. We look with hope to the glory she now shares with her Son. We know we, too, will one day share in that glory. And it should matter little if we retain the spare tire or the stray patches of hair. If we endure courageously and faithfully life’s trials and challenges, then the glory God bestows will belong to each of us whole and entire, including spare tires and stray patches of hair.