Today’s post is from Allison Connelly. Allison is a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary studying liberatory approaches to disability theology. She identifies as queer, disabled, Catholic, and United Church of Christ, and is a co-author of Dear Joan Chittister: Conversations with Women in the Church. To read Allison’s previous writings for Bondings 2.0, click here.
Today, August 15, marks the Feast of the Assumption, the day when Catholics remember that Mary, Mother of God, was “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 966). Though defined in theological language, the Assumption, like so many Catholic teachings, was not born in a vacuum. Rather, it developed in popular belief over the centuries until Pope Pius XII taught it as dogma in 1950.
His pronouncement came on the heels of the spiritual and physical devastation of World War II, when bodies (and souls) had been desecrated in horrific ways. His teaching on the Assumption was urgent: what theology, what ritual, could counter bodily violence except bodily sanctification?
The Assumption of Mary into Heaven has not only theological implications, but political implications as well. If a human body is fit for Heaven, to be present before God in physical form, who are we to destroy it? To destroy a body, then, is to destroy the Holy, the Heavenly Intimate, the Sanctified. To destroy a body is to destroy a piece of Heaven.
This sanctification of bodies is a powerful counterclaim to the more mainstream narrative about the “unworthiness” or “badness” of bodies. This mainstream narrative is most often applied to the bodies of the marginalized, including those of Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, disabled, transgender, and queer folks. As a queer woman, I know personally the hurt and the pain of being told by the official teaching of the Catholic Church that my body, because of the sexuality rooted within it, is “intrinsically disordered” and “counter to the rule of natural law” (CCC 2357). These mainstream narratives all stem from beliefs that only some bodies—namely, white, cisgender, straight, nondisabled bodies—are holy, sacred, perfect, created in the image of God. In other words, only some bodies are ultimately deserving of Heaven.
The consequences of exalting some bodies while denigrating others are realized daily. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor earlier this summer are visceral reminders of what happens when Black bodies are deemed “bad” and “unworthy” by police officers and white supremacists. The narrative of the “badness” and “unworthiness” of queer and transgender bodies leads to the murders of our transgender siblings at alarming rates: already in 2020, 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed.
These ugly narratives around bodies are also used to inflict violence and shame on disabled folks and people with disabilities. Many of my friends who are disabled tell stories about their experiences of harassment and pain: a stranger praying over a wheelchair user on a bus, a man nonconsensually touching a young blind woman in a crosswalk to provide unwanted “help,” a professor refusing to provide accommodations for a deaf student.
For disabled people, church is no better, and often, it’s worse. Churches don’t have ramps to the altar; bulletins don’t have a braille format; mental illness becomes “demon possession” and “sinful;” a Catholic school legally fires a teacher because she had breast cancer. Churches show the same exclusion and disdain – although in different manifestations – to queer and transgender folks. For example, the Archdiocese of Detroit recently told two LGBTQ Catholic organizations that they were no longer allowed to meet on church property, at least 90 LGBTQ employees have been fired from Catholic institutions since 2007 over issues of gender and sexuality, and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke out against a Supreme Court decision which ruled that LGBT people are protected from job discrimination. Just like Church-sanctioned beliefs about what makes a “good body” leads to discrimination against disabled folks, so do those same beliefs lead to discrimination against LGBTQ folks.
What happens to these beliefs in the face of the Assumption? Just as the Incarnation proves that human bodies are worthy of hosting God, the Assumption proves that human bodies are worthy of being hosted by God. If human bodies are worthy of both hosting and of being hosted by God, who are we to blaspheme against creation by rejecting, harming, or destroying human bodies?
I’ve felt overwhelmed by rejection, harm, and destruction lately: between the newness of a pandemic and the oldness of white supremacy, 2020 has seen pain inflicted upon human bodies in overwhelming quantities. I have felt the need for hope, reassurance, and sustenance to continue working for justice in the midst of so much violence and suffering. Today, I find that hope, reassurance, and sustenance in the dogma of the Assumption. I truly believe that as a Church and as a people, we need the Assumption today more than ever.
The Assumption I want this year feels very specific: if I had my druthers, we would be celebrating the heavenly presence of Black disabled transwomen who had lived long, comfortable, joyous lives. But in other ways, the Assumption I want in 2020 feels just as ancient as ever. The heavenly presence of Mary, a refugee, an unwed mother, a working-class, Brown, Jewish woman, who endured the regime of power-hungry leaders, who lost a son to state violence, is enough for me. May it be enough for you, too.
May this Assumption comfort you when you experience the violence of bodily destruction. May it propel you to action when you witness the bodily destruction of those people around you. And may you hold close to your heart the truth that to destroy a body is to destroy a piece of Heaven.
–Allison Connelly, August 15, 2020