Immaculate Conception December 8th 2010:
Today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the title given to our Lady to denote the fact that she was conceived without any stain of sin. This title also tells us that she was preserved from sin he whole life. This dogma of the Immaculate Conception has been around in the history of the Church for thousands of years and it was finally made an official teaching of the Church in 1854 by Blessed Pius IX.
However, when it comes to a teaching like this, many of us believe it without problem, but we can often wonder: why does it really matter? How does the Immaculate Conception of Mary make a difference in my life? Why did the Church decide it needed to go out and declare this teaching?
It got me thinking, you know it's amazing what we can get used to! There are so many situations in the world where there are terrible things going on and people have just plain gotten used to it. You all know, I'm sure because you go to Marian and we try to tell you about this, that a majority of the people in this world barely have enough to eat, have difficulty finding clean water, do not have access to things like electricity, or indoor plumbing, much less American essentials like internet and HDTV. But, we just get used to people being poor, and it makes little difference to us. Every year millions of babies die from a terrible disease. You might be thinking that I'm talking about abortion, but not really. Abortion is a symptom, the disease is the fundamental disorder in our Western approach to sexuality. As a nation, we seem to have forgotten the importance of chastity and the role of sex within marriage. The result is catastrophic: abortion, rape, pornography, diseases like AIDS, and even unwanted pregnancies, but as a nation it seems that we have gotten used to this. How many of us might be guilty of absorbing the culture's understanding of sexuality and the human body?
Perhaps the most stunning thing that we have gotten used to is death itself. Human beings were not made to die. Any time we encounter death among our friends or family, we feel their loss and we experience pain. Why? Because, death is not natural. But we have gotten so used to death, that we call it natural.
When we look around it is easy to think that the evil of sin or the evil of death is just natural. I mean we see it everywhere, so it must be right, it must be natural. The good news of the gospel is that sin and death are not natural!
Why does the Immaculate Conception matter? It is proof that the good news of the gospel is true. Mary is a bright, shining light in a world often tinted in darkness. She shows us that a human person can exist in a state of holiness. She shows us that human person can exist without sin, through her assumption she shows us that a human person can already live a life with God. Mary is for us hope! She shows us that we don't have to put up with sin, we don't have to put up with death.
How does this happen? How is Mary conceived without Sin? Our gospel tells us that answer. How does the Angel greet Mary? He doesn't say Hail Mary, like we say in the prayer. He actually says, Hail, full of grace. This title for Mary tells us exactly how Mary lived without sin: she was full of grace. There was no room in her for darkness because she was completely filled with God's light, God's goodness, in a word, Grace. What about all of us? Mary was filled with grace from the first moment of her existence. We are filled with grace gradually over time. Yet, it is the same grace, the same loving presence of God that can transform our darkness into his own light. We can never settle for sin. We can never settle for our darkness. We can never buy into the lie that we are made for sin, that sin is natural. It is not natural and it harms us. Mary shows us that we can live without sin. Human nature is compatible with grace, we just have to be open to it.
Mary did not make herself full of grace. God did the work in her. God continues to do this work in us. Every time a baby or adult is baptized, God is going this work. Every time we go to confession, God is doing this work. Every time a person is confirmed, a couple is married, a sick person is anointed, a man is ordained a priest, God is doing this work. In a few moments we will receive the Holy Eucharist, where God will continue to do this work. Mary experienced being full of grace from the first moment of our existence. We will not experience being full of grace until our last moment, in the Kingdom when it comes in its fullness. But, this does not mean that we settle for mediocrity and sin. Rather, with the help of God's grace, especially in the sacraments, God works within us to make us holy.