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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - God's Warrior Queen

Robert Barron - God's Warrior Queen

Robert Barron - God's Warrior Queen

Peace be with you. Friends, we have the great good fortune this year that August the 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin, falls on a Sunday. So we can reflect with a bit more attention on this marvelous feast, this marvelous solemnity. Let me begin this way. When I was a doctoral student in Paris many years ago, I used to give tours at Notre Dame Cathedral, and one of the last stops on the tour was out in front, looking at the facade. And over the left portal of Notre Dame, I would always point out this curious juxtaposition: a statue of Mary the Blessed Mother, and above her head, a little depiction of the ark of the covenant. I would tell the people that this is based in the reflection of the Church Fathers.

And the idea is that Mary, who carried in her womb the very Word of God, was the Ark of the Covenant par excellence. If the ancient ark carried the remnants of the tablets of the Ten Commandments, some manna, they say the staff of Aaron, and it was the most sacred object for ancient Israel, well, Mary surpasses that ark because she carried within her own body the very Word of God. Well, all of this is reflected really strongly, and it's curious to me, for the readings of this solemnity. You might think, "Oh, the Assumption of Mary. So Mary goes up and away and she's up in heaven and maybe someday I hope to be there with her".

Well, that's true enough, but it's very interesting that the Church insists upon this juxtaposition between Mary and the ark, and I want to just explore that with you a bit. Let's commence with the Gospel reading for today, taken from that first chapter of Luke. We hear that just after the Annunciation, Mary set out in haste, with great enthusiasm, to the hill country of Judah. That means the country, let's say, around the city of Jerusalem, the hilly country. Now, we say, "That's an interesting little topographical observation," but for an ancient Israelite immersed in the Scriptures, he or she would hear a very interesting echo, namely, the echo of a text in 2 Samuel.

The ark of the covenant had been recuperated from the Philistines, and I won't go into all the details, but it was being kept in the home of a man who lived in the hill country of Judah. So the minute they heard that line from Luke, they would've heard the echo. There's something being told here about the ark of the covenant. Go back to 2 Samuel. King David comes to the hill country. He retrieves the ark, and then he brings it into his holy city of Jerusalem. But he performs this beautiful ritual dance of abandon in the presence of the ark, dancing its way into the city. What do we hear now in the account of the Visitation? When Mary comes to the hill country of Judah to visit her cousin Elizabeth, we hear that the unborn John the Baptist, in the womb of his mother, leaps for joy the minute he hears Mary's greeting.

Now we say, "Charming detail". Oh, but someone immersed in the Scriptures, they're already attuned to this theme of the ark of the covenant, and then they notice John the Baptist doing his own version of David's festive dance in the presence of the true Ark. Okay? This same association is on display in our first reading, taken from the inexhaustibly rich final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. We hear this. The visionary author of the book is looking into the heavenly space. "God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within the temple". And "there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and an earthquake".

So there it is; the ark of the covenant in the heavenly temple, just as it was in the earthly temple in Jerusalem, surrounded by these portentous signs. Now, let your Indiana Jones imagination go a little bit, because it's meant to say: there's something a little bit overwhelming about this ark of the covenant. We're not dealing with a little, oh, intriguing artifact. No, no; there's something of the divine power present. Okay? So, the ark. But then listen: the very next lines, now, in our version of the Bible, this is the very end of chapter 11, the very beginning of chapter 12. But mind you, in the ancient world, there were no chapter headings. That came much later. So in the text, we're going right from the temple to this: "A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars".

We go right from the ark to Mary, right from the ark to the Mother of God, who's the Queen of Heaven. The crown indeed shows her to be a queen, and those cosmic associations, the sun and the moon, show her time-and-space-transcending authority. So again, we're meant to see ark and Mary together. But then it becomes clear, as the visionary goes on, this queen is not reigning serenely. Rather, she's laboring to give birth, but now making it even more dramatic, listen: "a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns" is poised right in front of her to devour the child upon his birth. The drama continues because we hear that happily, the child is snatched away, but then immediately a great war breaks out in heaven between the dragon and his angels and Michael and his angels, the great heavenly war.

Remember, the ark, surrounded by lightning and thunder and cosmic manifestations, and so now this queen of heaven is a kind of warrior in this great cosmic and spiritual struggle. She's a queen indeed, but a warrior queen, battling against the forces of darkness. Here we see now, with even greater clarity, why the association between Mary and the ark, because in ancient Israel, the ark, which was the bearer of the divine presence, was sometimes brought into battle by Israel. When it was up against a very powerful enemy, they'd bring the ark into battle as a conduit of the divine power. What's the point here? Mary, the Queen of Heaven, is not at a sort of serene distance from the struggle. No, no; she's involved in this great spiritual struggle. The Church, as it were, continues to carry that ark into its great battle.

You know, I'm always hesitant when I use this sort of militaristic imagery. Mind you, it's an image, it's a symbol, it's metaphor. Because see, God never fights with the puny weapons of the world. That ends up just being self-defeating. God's a warrior, indeed. Christ is a warrior. Mary's a warrior. Indeed. But they don't fight with the weapons of the world. And I'll give you the clue here from this story. So, the great dragon, in pursuit of the woman, spews out water, we hear. Now, see, if you're a biblical person, water calls to mind the "tohu wabohu," the watery chaos at the beginning of creation; calls to mind the waters of the Red Sea; it calls to mind all those forces of negativity and destruction. But then we hear that the dry earth swallows up the water.

See, that's the way God fights, not so much fire with fire, but God fights evil with its opposite. God swallows up the "tohu wabohu," the primal chaos, with his ever greater love and mercy. Ah, now we get it. Mary, who is the true Ark of the Covenant, is the warrior who helps to lead this great spiritual struggle, which is the life of the Church, the Church fighting the "tohu wabohu" spewed from the mouth of the dragon, but fighting not in the dragon's terms, but with the weapons of heaven. Huh. Now we get what the Assumption of Mary is all about. Not "Oh, she's gone up, up, and away. Mary's gone. She's just up there and maybe someday I'll be with her".

No, no, no; think of what I've said to you before about the Ascension of her Son. Similar idea. Christ has not gone away, but rather to a higher point of vantage from which he can manage and direct the great work of the Church in the world. Who is Mary? Now attend to her many appearances up and down the centuries in the life of the Church. What role does Mary play, but someone who is directing these operations, involved very much in the struggle against evil. Because we heard in the book of Revelation that that battle between the Son of the Virgin and the red dragon goes on, up and down the centuries. And Mary, the queen mother, the warrior queen, is very much involved in that struggle.

I've spoken before about the danger of a sort of Platonism or Gnosticism that sees the goal of the spiritual life as it's kind of getting away from this world as quickly as possible up to a pure spiritual realm. That might be Platonism, and it might be Gnosticism, but it's not Christianity. No, no. The point of the Bible is that God wants to redeem the whole of his creation. God is very much interested in this earth, in these bodies of ours, and he wants to save the whole of his creation. Now again everybody, why it's so important: Mary, we say, assumed body and soul into heaven. Not just, "Oh, her soul went up to heaven, leaving her body behind in this fallen realm".

No, no, no; assumed body and soul into heaven. That signals the fact that God is interested in saving the whole of his creation. And Mary, body and soul from her heavenly place, now directs, helps to direct, this great struggle with the dragon and all of his avatars up and down the centuries. This is not just a kind of dreamy, otherworldly flight of fancy. No, no; the Feast of the Assumption should focus us on the great work remaining before us, as we call upon the kingship of Christ ascended, the queenship of Mary assumed into heaven. And under their banner, under their leadership, we continue to do battle with all of those powers that stand athwart the purposes of God. That, I think, brothers and sisters, is what this feast is about and why the Church insists upon associating Mary assumed into heaven and the great ark of the covenant. And God bless you.
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