Our Lady's belt

Published on 15 Aug 2018
Painting of the Assumption

Old paintings of Saint Thomas the Apostle sometimes show him carrying a belt.  According to pious legend the doubting of Thomas extended to the Assumption of Our Lady.  He had been convinced of the Resurrection when the Risen Lord appeared to him and allowed him to inspect on his body the traces of the crucifixion.  My Lord and My God said Thomas when he believed.    He was again away from the group of apostles who witnessed the Assumption. Once more,  it is said, he was sceptical and did not believe that Our Lady had been taken up to heaven.  He dug where she would have been buried had she fallen asleep in death in the usual way.  He found only flowers in the ground: sweet-smelling roses.  He looked up.  Our Lady looked down from heaven.  Thomas still doubted.  So she threw him her belt to convince him.  And he was finally convinced.  This is why Medieval and Renaissance images of St Thomas often show him holding a belt. In the Cathedral of Prato, near Florence, in Tuscany, Our Lady’s belt is venerated to this day.  It is shown to the people from a special balcony on the Feast of the Assumption and on the Feast of St Thomas.

Whatever you make of this legend, what is undeniable is that Our Lady is always encouraging us to go a little further in the faith: to believe more deeply, to trust more completely, to love God and other people more generously.  The Feast of the Assumption further encourages us with the thought that to go that little bit further in faith with the Mother of God is to move serenely into the very Kingdom of God.  This Kingdom is just in front of us, and with the grace of God, with hard work, with faith we can step forward into it. Scripture tells us that We are escorted amid gladness and joy;  we pass within the palace of the king.  The Blessed Virgin Mary accompanies us on our route of faith, helping, showing us the way.  She herself is securely with God and demonstrates what is possible for us if we adopt the way of life which she recommends to us, a way of conformity to the will of God, a life of saying Yes to what is sought from us by God's Word.  That Word tells us The sanctuary of God in heaven opened and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it.  Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman adorned with the sun....  The link between our life and the life of God is illuminated by the achievement of Mary who brought God into our world.  Our life can also be one of assent to the will of God.  Our life can also be one of fruitfulness with the Word.  Our life can also be one in which the divine and the human are nourished and brought to maturity.  What we are called to be by God, our vocation, is for both time and for eternity.  God calls each of us to fulfilment in him in a unique way.  Every one of us is created in the image and likeness of God with different gifts and aptitudes.  Therefore the role assigned to us in the building up of the Kingdom cannot be performed by anyone else.  The Lord sustains in being and loves to maturity those whom He has made.  What we celebrate today in the life of Mary is for most of us the task of a life-time.  Our progress towards God is usually not so rapid or dramatic.  We become like God again, but only slowly.

Our likeness to God is primarily in the soul, in that part of us where we are most completely (and perhaps most secretly) ourselves. It is possible for our whole self to give unique glory to God.  The soul ennobles the body which is good and blessed in itself.  In the soul, the law of God can be understood, to the benefit of the body.  Body and soul combine to do that good on earth for which we were created.  This combination is our meaning and significance.  And it extends into eternity.  Trivial as some of our activities may seem, they have an eternal significance.  The good and the bad both contribute, by the workings of Providence.  Our Lady was assumed into heaven body and soul to continue her work ministering to the Body of Christ.  She is helping us now, as once she nurtured her child.  Mary always modestly deflects attention away from herself and points to the Son.  Victory and power and empire forever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.  Our Lady teaches us a similar kind of self-effacement which at the same allows for strength of purpose and the unflinching assertion of who it is that we are and what it is that connects us to God.

Peter Gallagher SJ