December 5, 2021: Second Sunday of Advent - Pastor’s Corner
If Christmas is the celebration of birth, Advent is the period of pregnancy. Just as Mary experienced both the pains and joys of expectation for the birth of her child, so too, we are called to prepare our minds and hearts in anticipation of his birth in our lives. The pregnant Virgin gives us a fruitful example and witness of how to “Advent” well. (I like to think of Advent as a verb, an action by which we choose to prepare our hearts for Christ’s birth) This week we will reflect on the significance of Mary as the Immaculate Conception, celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation this Wednesday December 8th.
“I am the Immaculate Conception.” This is how the Lady of Lourdes identified herself to young Bernadette Soubirous in the apparition grotto. Just four years previous, on December 8, 1854, the Church formally stated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in Pope Pius IX’s pronouncement Ineffabilis Deus: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.”
There are three key aspects of Immaculate Conception which enrich our faith. First, the Immaculate Conception concerns the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, traditionally known as St. Anne. This is to be distinguished from the virgin birth of Jesus. Some mistakenly think that the Immaculate Conception refers to the moment when Christ became Incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. However, that joyous moment is celebrated on March 25 (nine months before Christmas) on the feast of the Annunciation.
Second, it affirms that Mary is protected from all original sin, i.e., the sin we “inherit” from our first parents. When we speak of “original” sin, it does not refer to the personal sins and selfish actions that we freely choose. Rather, original sin refers to the proclivity to selfishness that we are born with, sort of a “Murphy’s law,” of spirituality: “anyone who has been stained by sin, will sin.” Original sin names the gravity toward selfishness inherited and inherent in human nature. As Catholics we affirm that God preserved the Blessed Virgin Mary from this original sin in order that she might be a worthy and fitting vessel to receive the all holy, all loving Word of God in her very womb.
Third, not only was Mary immaculately conceived in view of her role as the Mother of God, but because of the very actions of her Son. In other words, Mary needed a Savoir. Even though Mary was immaculately conceived before the birth of her Son and, as Gabriel attests is “full of grace”, it is only the grace of her Son’s saving death and resurrection that makes this possible. In Luke 1:47, Mary proclaims: “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Mary was not preserved from sin because of her own holiness or merits, rather, she was holy because of the grace won for her by her Son.
At the core of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is the beauty of God’s providential mercy. God not only sent us His Son, but in choosing, blessing and sanctifying the Virgin Mary, He gave us a mother. Since we are “adopted” as God’s children through the Son, we look to Mary as a mother who always inspires, enlightens and guides us her children to her Son. As we continue to anticipate and prepare for the renewal of Jesus in our lives, let us ask our mother Mary to open our hearts as she did, so that Christ may be conceived in our minds and heart afresh.
~ Fr. Michael