A few weeks ago I took part in a 'Thinking Faith' week for young people in which we thought about areas of contemporary life in Britain where out faith had something important and challenging to say. One such area was debate about how you determine that someone had died.
For many this is when you can say that someone is 'brain dead,' when the brain has stopped functioning and is unlikely to recover. Sometimes the body still continues to function in various ways, but it is the activity of the brain which is held to be crucial.
The person leading this discussion was both a research scientist and a committed Catholic and he argued that the linking of death to brain activity distorted the nature of the human being. A human being is instead a unity of brain and body and it is when that whole stops functioning that we should say someone is death. To do otherwise was to fragment the human being and ascribe to a dualist and unchristian anthropology: 'I am my brain,' not 'I am my brain and body.'
This is a modern version of the more traditional dualism of soul and body, where it is claimed that the soul, however understood, is the real human person, the real 'I', not the soul and body together.
Today we celebrate the Assumption of Our Lady, the doctrine of faith which Pope Pius XII defined:
Preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory upon completion of here earthly sojourn. She was exalted by the Lord as Queen of the Universe, in order that she might be the more thoroughly conformed to her Son, the Lord of Lords and the conqueror of sin and death.
At the end of her life Mary was taken up body and soul in order that she might share in the resurrection of Christ which conquers death and gives to all the hope of bodily resurrection.
The Assumption of the Our Lady confirms for us that human beings are not just souls or even brains, but souls and bodies. There would have been not point in Mary being assumed body and soul into heaven, if here body were somehow extraneous to her identity. Rather Mary, like each of us, was and is a unity of soul and body.
Unlike us, she enjoys the privilege of not having to undergo the trauma of separation of that soul and body when we die, when the whole human being ceases to function.
The Assumption of Our Lady, who remained sinless from the moment of her conception, manifests the truth of our faith that death itself is part of the dislocation of human life which results from sin. Strange as it may seem, death was not part of God's original intention for human beings, a gift and privilege which exceeded the mortality of human beings as part of the natural world.
As the Catechism teaches us:
Even though man's nature is mortal, God destined him not to die. Death is therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator, and entered the world as a consequent of sin.
The Assumption of Our Lady reminds us that we should hope for our own resurrection. The Church bases its affirmation of the Assumption on the evidence of history, that her body did not remain on earth when her time on earth had come to an end. The Assumption is a historical fact which roots our own hope in fact, our own hope of sharing in the Resurrection of Christ, as Paul tells us in the second reading:
Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him.
Finally, the Assumption reminds us that our own resurrection is a gift, the generous and unmerited reaching out to us by God in love. God's choice of Mary to be the mother of Christ was a gift. Her sinless conception was a gift. Mary did indeed co-operate freely with these gifts and responded in faith to her calling, yet her life was always marked by the giving of God, which ended in the gift of an immediate share in Christ's Resurrection.
Each of us in the integrity of our individual humanity, male or female, tall or short, black, brown or white, beautiful or ugly, each of us will be given the gift of the resurrection, each of us loved by God as we are.