Until very recently, the author Anne Rice was mostly famous for three things.
First, she wrote a series of bestselling novels about vampires. I guess you won’t be surprised that I never read one.
Second, she wrote two books about Jesus. I have one of them but didn’t manage to read it either.
And third, she was famous for returning to the Catholic faith of her childhood. Her spiritual memoir, Called Out of Darkness, described how she came back to the faith she’d rejected in her youth.
Rice gave a moving account of her return to the Church: “In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from [God] for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I’d been, all of my life, missing the entire point.”
Like many others, I rejoiced that someone so famous had found her way back to God and the Church, and that she was so public about it.
Last week, however, Ann Rice publicly rejected Christianity. She announced “Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity.”
I was, of course, both very sad and quite surprised to hear this. But when I went back and re-read some of the things she’d said about her conversion, her decision to reject Christianity—Catholic Christianity in particular—wasn’t all that surprising.
Because from the first days of her newfound faith, Rice did not accept a range of Church teachings, including those on homosexuality, birth control, and abortion. Her arguments are eloquent, as you’d expect from someone who has sold over 100 million books. She says, for instance, that “following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”
I am sure that many of us have heard similar arguments, or even made them ourselves. They are not silly or ignorant or mean-spirited arguments like those in some current atheist bestsellers. They are, to some extent, the arguments of many devout and admirable Protestant Christians.
But they are arguments that the Church has answered centuries ago, and every Catholic should be able to answer them in his or her head and in his or her heart.
And they are arguments that we must answer to celebrate properly today’s feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Today we celebrate a truth of faith that you won’t find defined in the Bible. Yet it is a dogma—a belief of such importance that Catholics are obliged to give to it “an irrevocable adherence of faith.” (CCC 88)
Like all dogmas, the Assumption is not unconnected to our faith in Christ; on the contrary, the Catechism tells us that dogmas are either truths contained in Divine Revelation or truths that have a necessary connection with them. (CCC 88)
The Catechism adds that “There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure.” (CCC 89)
In Anne Rice’s “moment of surrender,” she says that she “let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept [her] from [God].” But letting go was the exact opposite of the Catholic response to theological questions. We don’t let go; we hang on.
We embrace the core truths that the Church proposes, even before our intellect may be fully able to work them out. Certainly we don’t turn off our brains, but we welcome dogmas even when we still have some ways to go before we understand or agree with them. We hang on to them.
What might have been different if Anne Rice had welcomed even the Church’s most difficult and currently unpopular teachings, hanging on to them like a lifeline in stormy seas?
I would venture this thought: if Anne Rice had taken to heart the dogma of the Assumption, she might still be calling herself a Christian today.
Because Mary’s Assumption shows two things very clearly: our human dignity, and our human destiny.
It’s easy enough to keep the teaching of Jesus in a “spiritual” box so it doesn’t interfere with our physical world. But the Church has always applied his message to both soul and body… and makes no apology for that. For the truth about the body is a soaring, glorious truth: the body, no less than the soul, is created in the image and likeness of God. It, no less than the soul, can draw us to Him. Does this seem far-fetched? Well, just try some time to get your soul to heaven without a body to see, to sense, to know.
What’s more, this body has a destiny—to rise as an eternal body. This truth is quite beyond imagining: but the Assumption helps us grasp it. In Mary’s journey to heaven, body and soul, we catch something of our own destiny. True enough, she was the most blessed of all women—but in order to be that, she had to be a woman: human like us, a body-person like us.
In the honour Christ gave to Mary we can anticipate “the resurrection of all members of his Body.”
Such truths matter, in the long haul. As the Catechism says, they illuminate and secure our faith. Mary’s Assumption teaches without words the dignity and the destiny of each faithful Christian.
And the Church does the same, proclaiming other dogmas that may challenge and even confuse us, but which will eventually save us if we hang on despite our doubts, and seek with humility and patience the saving truths they contain.