Saturday: 8 December, 2102 –– The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Genesis 3:9–15, 20 / Ephesians 1:3–6, 11–12 / Luke 1:26–38
Chosen to Be Holy
This is a Solemnity –– a holy day –– a “day of obligation” for church attendance. We come to church and go through the familiar forms like confessing our Faith through the Creed, but how often do we think about what we’re saying? Here is a pertinent part of it for today: for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.
Why come to church for this Solemnity? I hope it’s because we know we are broken and need to be healed. We too easily bear bad fruit (fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing –– the fruit of the flesh in Gal 5:19–21) instead of good fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control –– the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22,23). We are not holy, and we need to be holy. The second reading tells us: he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1:4). Our calling is to be holy, but how can we be holy when both our legacy and our disposition is to sin?
We cannot correct our maladies by ourselves, so God chose to do what we cannot do –– “undo” the legacy of sin set in motion by Adam and Eve. The Old Testament story is not “just a story.” God worked through Jesus and Mary as a New Adam and a New Eve.
To be truly human, Jesus was born of a real human mother. The Son of God took his humanity from his mother. How could Jesus, as God-Man, take this real humanity upon himself and not become tainted with sin? The Church teaches that by a special act of grace Mary was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her life. This is what we call the Immaculate Conception.
The biblical basis for this is inferred from the angel’s first words to Mary when she is called full of grace (Luke 1:28). If sin is the absence or lack of God's glory and grace (all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God––Romans 3:23), then if Mary was “full of grace” she was not lacking in God's grace, and was therefore sinless. How could this be? Again, the Church teaches that by a special act of grace Mary was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her life.
“Mary” was my biggest hurdle coming into the Church. If Mary was “sinless” why does she call God “my Savior” in the Magnificat (Luke 1:47)? I found this analogy: A man falls into a muddy pit and someone pulls him out. Now the man is “saved” from the pit, but still has the stain of mud on him as a result of falling into it. Again, imagine a woman is about to fall into the same pit, but at the moment she is to fall, someone stops her. She has also been saved, not from just falling into the pit, but from getting stained by the mud.
In the same way, Mary was saved by Jesus –– by the same sacrifice on the cross that saves us –– but at the moment of her conception, preventing her from being stained by original sin. In this way she could be the holy vessel chosen to carry the Son of God. The Immaculate Conception is not first of all about Mary! It is about the total sinlessness of Jesus and the integrity of our salvation. God’s salvation is all about holiness.
Holiness is a major theme throughout Scripture. We are all called to be holy. In the same Letter to the Ephesians Paul says: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). This is God's great purpose in creating the Church –– to have a holy and “immaculate” people that can appear before him and not flee from his presence like Adam and Eve did after their sin.
The preface of today's Eucharistic Prayer says: In her.... you signify the beginning of the Church, his beautiful Bride without spot or wrinkle. ....you placed her above all others to be for your people an advocate of grace and a model of holiness. This is what we celebrate in Mary today. She is the one in whom there is a guarantee that the whole plan of salvation will be accomplished. As the angel told Mary: Nothing is impossible with God! Mary is the proof of this. This is why Mary is called "Mother of the Church."
God’s salvation, as modeled in Mary, calls us to holiness. We are not born “immaculate” as she was born (by a singular privilege bestowed by God). Rather, we are infected by an evil in every fiber of our being. We are full of "wrinkles" that must be smoothed and "blemishes" that must be healed. It is in our recovery of the image of God that Mary, already fully “saved”, stands before us as a powerful reminder that we are all called to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).
So, we are called to be holy –– to be saints. God graced Mary with holiness so that, through Jesus Christ, the same Holy Spirit that breathed into Mary the Immaculate Conception can also breathe into us a conversion that changes us into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthian 3:18). All we need to do is pray with Mary, May it be done to me according to your word.... That is why we are here.