8 December, 2012. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Theme: Our Blessed Lady, by the foreseen merits of her Son, was preserved from the first moment of her existence from any taint of sin. She is the highest model of holiness for us all.
Gen 3:9-20. The enmity between the serpent and the woman and her offspring.
Eph 1:3ff. The saving grace of God applies in a special way to our Blessed Mother.
Lk 1:26-38. The annunciation, when Mary said her total Yes to God.
First Reading: Book of Genesis 3:9-15, 20
(God puts enmity between the serpent and the woman, between its offspring and hers)
But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
Second Reading: Letter to the Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
(The saving grace of God applies in a special way to our Blessed Mother.)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him, in love.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
(The annunciation, when Mary said her total Yes to God.)
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel as sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the refore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, you relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Most Highly-Favoured One
We must be careful not to let the idea of Mary’s sinlessness lead us to a mistaken view of her, as remote from us. For we have known some good men and women who seem to have a certain holier-than-thou attitude toward others who are not on the same level of holiness. They can be intolerant, angry and judgmental toward those they regard as sinners. People like that would not hesitate to throw the first stone at a sinner caught red-handed at fault. That is why the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which we celebrate today can be an important lesson for us. It reminds us that total sinlessness is not something that Mary achieved by her own power. It is a pure gift of God, given to her right from the moment of her conception. It was in her genes, as they say, on behalf of us all.
In the same vein, those who may happen to be holy, who sin less than the average sinner, should regard holiness as basically a gift of God and not an achievement. Our response should be characterised by two basic attitudes, thankfulness to God, and humility before those who are naturally or spiritually less gifted than ourselves.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. It affirms the belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from sin right from the beginning of her life. That means that by the grace of God, she was shielded from that original sin which all humankind inherit from Adam and Eve. That means that Mary was not burdened with the moral defects with which you and I come into the world. She came into the world with a perfect human nature like that of Eve and Adam before they sinned and fell from grace. God gave her this perfect human nature not as a reward for anything she did, not on account of any merit on her part, but in view of the singular role she was to play in life, namely, that of being the mother of God’s Son, our divine Saviour. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception tells us something about who Mary is. But maybe it tells us more about who God is and who we are in light of God’s providential love.
Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is belief in a provident God, i.e., a God who provides for the future, who prepares His children for their assigned task in life even before they are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the natural and supernatural qualities we need to play our assigned role in the drama of human salvation. God anoints them already in the womb those men and women whom He created to be His prophets. As He told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). God does not just throw us into this world wide wilderness and then leave us to fight it out among ourselves. The theory of evolution with its doctrine of the survival of the fittest may describe human nature in its fallen state, in the state of original sin, it does not describe life for the people of God redeemed by grace from the unbridled effects of the Fall.
As we rejoice with Mary, God’s most favoured one (“full of grace”) on the feast of her conception, let us thank God for His love and mercy which embraces us right from the moment of our own conception. As Scripture says, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7). Everything is gift, everything good in us is God’s grace. For we all, children of God, are also favoured ones and heirs of God’s grace. Yet Mary remains the most favoured one, the mother of all favoured ones, the one that enjoys the fullness of grace.