It was the feast of the Assumption of Mary and he called the place Asuncion. The town that grew there became the “Mother of the Cities” of South America. Today it is the capital of a small country, but for three centuries it was the centre of Spanish colonial expansion and control. Like Sao Paolo and San Francisco, the religious name of a great city does little to mask its earthy character.
For that Spanish captain it was a devout moment when he called down a name that carried enormous weight in Christian tradition. From early times, when they reflected on who Jesus of Nazareth really was, people had looked at his mother in wonder. “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that suckled you!” And by the fifth century Christians felt comfortable enough to actually call Mary, ‘Mother of God’. All sorts of thoughts flowed from this and a key one was, being so close to her Son in every way, Mary must have shared not only in his anguish and suffering but also in his joy and victory. Just as the Lord rose from the dead and returned to the Father so his Mother was raised up (assumed) to heaven with him.
And just as the name Asuncion is a mixture of earth and heaven, so too is every woman and man. But this day of Mary is perhaps specially a celebration of women. The secular world likes to remember Mothers’ Day as a gesture towards thanking our mothers, wives and women generally for their love and care. Recently I have been aware of several cases of women attending to their sick incapacitated husbands, day in day out, without a word of “poor me, what kind of life is this?” They have lost their freedom and have zero social life,. Yet they freely give up everything to attend to their spouse.
Such people come to realise the truth of Jesus words, “those who lose their life find it.’ They come to sense that their experience – though you would never wish it on anyone – is, in the end, precious. They touch here an extraordinary truth which the dominant culture of our time refuses: to give one’s life, to accept continuous hardship, to accept that options are closing all round me – these things do not have to be disasters. They can be life-giving. “When you were young you went where you liked; now that you are old someone else will tell you where to go” (John 21:18).
Mary understood these things. In the grubby world of a remote province of a first century Roman colony, she saw her son driven to execution by the obduracy of his contemporaries. His Ascension and her Assumption are the descriptions we have for their triumph over the muddled reality we call this world, which is our home.
On 15 August 1537 a Spanish explorer came on a bend of the Paraguay River that appealed to him as suitable for a settlement.