Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Gn 3:9-15,20; Ps 98:1-4; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk 1:26-38:  This is our national feast in honor of the Mother of God.  Today we gather around the Blessed Virgin Mary to celebrate her unique privilege of being conceived without original sin.  Our Holy Father Pius IX proclaimed this truth that immerged from the prayer and reflection of many generations of believers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Her singular grace and privilege flowed from the merits of Jesus Christ, her Savior and Son. We join the communion of the Saints who sing a new song to the LORD for he has done wondrous deeds.  In the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of his son, Our Lord Jesus, we have seen the victory of his right hand and holy arm. Indeed, the LORD is victorious over the curse of disobedience.  That future glory is seen in the very conception of the Mother of God.  She was so completely one with the kindness and faithfulness of God that sin never touched her from the moment of her conception to the fulfillment of her assumption.  The marvelous deeds of the LORD are seen in the unique privilege of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She becomes a sign of the saving power of her Son, the Lord Jesus.  This sign is held up by us for all the earth to see.  We invite all the sons and daughters of the New Eve to break into song and sing praise!  Our great joy in the Virgin’s unique privilege is that it is the same grace of Her Son that makes us holy.  Indeed, with Saint Paul we rejoice that “we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.”  This rejoicing is founded on the truth of today’s gospel; this truth sets us free, “for nothing will be impossible for God.”  Alleluia!

For some pastoral reason the lectionary leaves out much of the bad news in this account of human origins. We do not hear the full brunt of the punishment that the LORD gave to our first parents in Genesis.  Perhaps, we need to hear the bad news before we can hear the good news.  In verses 16 – 19 we hear of the suffering Eve and her descendants must bear in the pangs of childbearing, and of the sufferings of Adam and his descendants in the toil of providing food, and the pain that both sons and daughters of our first parents must endure when they return to the dust from which they came. Giving birth, human labor, and even death, great human events, become moments of suffering in human experience all because of the disobedience of Adam in not providing a support for his wife who struggled with temptation, and in the disobedience of both Adam and Eve in consuming the forbidden fruit.  This tragic beginning of our human family is not the whole story.  Indeed, it is no real tragedy at all because it results in the promise of salvation spoken by God to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”  Where the sin of disobedience abounded, the grace of obedience all the more abounded.  In the New Eve we see the faithfulness of the LORD who created her without original sin so that from the beginning of her life on earth, at the first moment of her conception in Saint Ann’s womb, Mary would be an obedient daughter of God through the grace of her eternally obedient Son.  Indeed, from all eternity the Son lived and moved and had his being in the Holy Spirit and in loving obedience to the Father.  This Eternal Son became the Son of Mary.  The Blessed Virgin Mary was truly blessed from the very beginning, obedient in love, like Her Son. Indeed, the enmity was between the serpent and the New Eve, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the New Adam, Jesus Christ, the Lord, and that serpent’s head has been crushed, completely crushed.

 Four verses are left out of this second reading from the letter to the Ephesians.  As in the first reading, this omission was for a pastoral reason.  Like in the Genesis account the omission from this letter involves suffering.  In these left out verses we hear Saint Paul preaching that it is in the blood of Christ that the forgiveness of transgressions is lavished upon us.  Indeed, it is in all wisdom and insight that we have come to know the mystery of the Father’s plan to make known to us in the fullness of time who we are and why we are here.  Rather than the suffering that is the consequence of disobedience, these verses reveal the suffering of Christ that is the consequence of his obedience. Suffering is no longer seen as just a punishment for sin, or just a random event, it has a whole new meaning in the mystery of the cross.  Suffering, because of the blood of Christ and the forgiveness lavished upon us, is now seen as a privileged way of life in union with the Chosen One who has chosen us to be one with him.  Indeed with our Holy Mother, Mary, the Mother of God, we share in the great joy of giving birth to the New Creation, in Christ Jesus the firstborn from the dead. Indeed our suffering becomes the joy of the New Eve in bringing forth a Son in whom all the sons and daughters of the New Eve might be holy and without blemish before Our God and Father.  No longer is man defined by sin, no longer can we say I’m only human what do you expect?  No longer can we excuse ourselves from sin because of the temptation all around us; now, we are made new in the mystery of Christ’s suffering and death.  Because Christ has destroyed sin and death, we live now holy and without blemish.  We live now for the praise of his glory, now and unto the ages of ages.

We reflect upon this gospel passage daily in praying the Angelus.  Today we hear this Word of God in its fullness as we affirm faith in the Immaculate Conception.  When the Archangel Gabriel greeted the Virgin Mary with these words, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,”  the entire mystery of salvation was proclaimed.  Indeed, from the very moment of her conception the Virgin Mary was full of grace and the LORD was with her.  All through her life the Mother of God welcomed the word of God within her heart and mind and when this Heavenly Messenger arrived she was ready and willing to say, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  Such an act of obedient love in the freedom of the New Eve was complete and total.  She was honestly puzzled about how this was to happen since she was a virgin and a virtuous woman.  Archangel Gabriel explained that the power of the Most High would overshadow her and the child would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This word of revelation took away all her fear and she trusted that the Lord’s Word to her would be fulfilled.  This same trust is necessary for each one of us who wonder how we can become holy and grow to despise our sin rather than delight in it. Only the power of the Most High and the power of the Holy Spirit can enable such a mystery!  What the Mother of God was in her conception we become because of the same grace and glory alive in us.  Indeed, this unspeakable privilege of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the greatest honor of our people; the high point of all that God has done in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The wonder of God’s grace in the Virgin’s Immaculate Conception reveals the marvels of God in history and in our lives of grace and glory.