Reflection: Feast of the Immaculate Conception
The Glory of Mary is Our Glory
Today's feast, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is greatly misunderstood, even by many devout Christians of the Catholic Tradition. It is widely assumed that this relates to the conception of Jesus by Mary. It does not! That wonderous event is celebrated on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25<sup>th</sup> March, exactly nine months before Christmas Day. Today’s feast commemorates the conception of Mary herself by her parents Saints Joachim and Anna. In itself, viewed merely as an historical fact, there was seemingly nothing miraculous about this event – Mary was conceived by her parents in the usual fashion. The story associated with them, which is of ancient origin, is that Joachim, a Jewish priest, and his wife Anna, had been unable to have a child. Jewish society at the time saw this as a mark of shame and divine disfavour, or even punishment for sin, so they naturally prayed hard to God for this burden to be removed from them. God heard their prayer and answered it through the conception of a girl – who was to become the Mother of God!
God, having chosen Mary as the Mother of Jesus, exercised a singular grace. We all have the stain of original sin, the sinful nature which is bequeathed to us by virtue of our fallen human nature, removed by Baptism – which is a very great gift. However, in Mary’s case (and in hers alone), God went further. Mary was created without sin – it was never part of her make-up and therefore never had to be removed! When, some years later, the Archangel Gabriel greeted her at Nazareth, he addressed her as being ‘full of grace’. If something is ‘full’, there is no room for anything else. Thus, in Mary there was no room for sin of any sort – neither original nor actual! Mary had, from the very moment of its creation and infusion into her body, the unfallen, sinless sate that Eve had prior to her sinning. This was fitting for in Mary the Church sees ‘the Second Eve’, through whose ‘Yes’ to God salvation comes into the world!
Mary was ‘saved’ by the infinite merits of her Son, as we all are. It is just that Mary was granted the singular privilege of being saved in advance, by anticipation. Unlike the rest of us, she never knew sin. As such, her place is singular and unrepeatable, for Christ has only one Mother. Nevertheless, Mary serves to remind us that her sinlessness, her unfallen human nature, like that of her Son, is something that we should ‘aspire’ to. It is not that we can earn it, or gain it through our own merits. It is entirely a gift of God. The Scripture tells us ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’ (Isaiah 1:18). God’s forgiveness makes us this way, truly and in reality. It is not that God then counts us as righteous (though we are not). Rather, we are righteous – not through our own merits, but through God’s free gift to us. To gain this inestimable gift, wherein our original nature is restored to us, it is merely necessary for us to freely cooperate with him, through living the sacramental life and through obedience to his commandments! God forces no-one – the choice remains at all times our own. However, as in this world, choices have consequences and these consequences are eternal, for God respects our free will, though he may mourn what we do with it!
Looking at Mary, we see not just someone whose status as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven we can never attain, but rather the one person who fully gave herself to God. Her sinlessness is a gift of God, to whom she owes everything. We see in Mary someone whose life is truly a pattern for us to emulate. WE may not be able to ever attain her status – but we can cooperate with God, as she did, in our salvation. God’s grace, his gift of himself, was not confined to Mary but is available for each of us at every moment of our lives so that we may speedily attain life with him in the Kingdom. Let us look to Mary, let us constantly implore her intercession, so that, in God’s good time, we may rejoice with her in the presence of her Son, whose reign and kingdom shall have no end.
May Our Lady, with all the saints, pray for you and those whom you love, now and through all the days of your life.