Last month, NASA’s slow release of infrared images of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 displayed the captivating beauty of a mysterious, deep, dark pocket of the universe. Webb’s First Deep Field snapshots brought to the world a field of luminous stars suspended against a distant sky. The first images revealed even more distant galaxies beyond.
Yet, even amidst the splendour of our home universe lingers the idea that there is not one but many multiverses, or hypothetical realms that exist alongside our own universe. The concept has been around since the 1980s but has made a comeback lately at the box office in the form of multiverses, spider-verses and even multiverse madness. At a time when the spectacular beauty of our own universe is in full view, why do we clamour for parallel worlds? Liel Leibovitz observed that the multiverse phenomenon seems to supply temporary relief to a chronic problem that plagues our world: the crippling anxiety that comes with our freedom to choose. Multiple universes that produce multiple dimensions appear to resolve the tension of having and exercising a free will. When we make one choice, we actually make two choices –the choice we made and the one we didn’t. The multiverse supplies a place where the choice and its effects have no consequences except to be played out in another dimension. This relieves the actor of responsibility for his actions and can even activate his unrealized potential in another pocket of the cosmos. In the multiverse, “all your unknowns are known somewhere else, where a different you has finally figured it all out.”
In August, we celebrate the moment when Our Lady was mystically assumed into heaven. This dogma is relatively recent, having been promulgated in 1950. In Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII writes that Mary’s hidden life with Christ and her Immaculate Conception and divine motherhood allows her to participate in a special way in Christ’s total triumph over sin and its consequences. Because of this, we believe that she also is preserved from the corruption of death and taken up, body in soul into heaven where she now reigns as Queen (MD 40).
Mary’s fiat at the moment of the Annunciation unspooled two timelines. We will never know what our desperate reality would have been had she declined to do the will of God. What we do know is that the Angel Gabriel came, announced, and received her yes. Mary’s one choice, changed the course of history forever, and as St Thomas Aquinas teaches, made her the most near to the Author of Grace. Because she received within her womb and gave birth to Him who is the source all grace, Mary in a manner, dispenses grace to all and is Mother to us all.
Of His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace, proclaims the Prologue of St John’s Gospel. It is not a privileged reserve for a few select persons, or even a limited supply of grace for those who are merited worthy of the gift, but the fulness of grace which is an extension of God’s infinite goodness and mercy to us. This grace of God is abundant for all who labour in the mortal state. Today, this abundance is realised in a new and particular way. Mary, who is full of grace (Luke 1:28), completes her earthly course and is assumed by God into heaven. The Virgin Mary is exalted above the choirs of angels; let all believers rejoice and bless the Lord (Antiphon for Lauds, the Solemnity of the Assumption).
Confronted with the decisions we have made in the past and the choices that lie ahead, we may at times attempt to escape our fragile human condition. But herein lies our nobility and our vulnerability: we are free to choose. If we find ourselves alone in the universe without God or grace to protect us, a parallel universe with multiple meanings might appear to enhance the possibility that we will find peace, or with Pascal hedge our bets on the hope that something better lies ahead. It is precisely here that we need this feast more than ever.
Our Lady, in her strength and fidelity, answered the angel’s question with a once and decisive yes. Her one assent led to a lifetime of assents. Her unwavering response to God’s will untangled the thicket of our own flawed decisions and missed opportunities for grace. Mary’s one choice opened the way for saints and miracles and ultimately our salvation. The Lord has made you so glorious that your praise will never cease to resound among men, echoes an antiphon for the day. Our Lady ascends today to the heavens, beyond galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 and all other realms, to the angels in glory. Her upward gaze contrasts Peter’s downward glance at his own sunburnt feet, suspended over the turbulent waters. Our Lady’s ascent overcomes the paralysis we experience when we focus downward on the things in this life over which we have no control. Mary’s gaze teaches us to abandon our futile ways of thinking and to fix our eyes on the Father’s action in the world: the way His love and His choices have been our gentle guide in this life.
In Christ, Mary is victorious over suffering, sickness, sin, and death. Her ascent into heaven is the bodily manifestation of God’s consuming love for her. In Mary, we see the beauty and the power of one woman’s yes in our universe. As we share the fruits of life through her, may the Mother of Grace draw us ever closer to Her Son from whom we have all received, grace upon grace.
Author: Sr Mary Sarah, OP.
Sister Mary Sarah is the superior of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia located in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria.