Saturday mornings aren't usually mornings I find myself readying for Mass but that's exactly what I was doing a few hours ago as I prepared to celebrate what the Church calls the Feast of The Immaculate Conception on this Holy Day of Obligation.
There is much thought and believed about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, by both Catholics and non-Catholics and sadly, not much of it is as accurate or correct as it ought or needs to be. So I was most pleasantly surprised this morning to listen to a homily by our newly ordained (back in early October) Permanent Deacon Jim Satterwhite that gave a solid teaching on the Immaculate Conception.
Deacon Jim was pleased to share that homily with me and was also open to my sharing it with you. I'm trusting there are things here to learn:
Today's Solemnity commemorates a dogma proclaimed in 1854, but whose belief dates back at least to the seventh century. Although we have held this belief for centuries, many faithful Catholics today have a difficult time explaining The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. - - - Many people, including many Catholics, think that the Solemnity refers to the conception of Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, The Immaculate Conception actually refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary being free from Original Sin from the very moment of her conception.
In the Gospel today, we heard the angel Gabriel greeting Mary: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you”. - - - It is this term, ‘full of grace’ that led theologians to assert that Mary was totally free from any kind of sin, not only at the moment of her conception, but at every moment of her existence. Mary was given this gift from God not as a reward for anything she did, - - - not because of any merit on her part, - - - but in anticipation of the role she was to play in salvation history. Through Mary, who fully cooperated with the Divine Plan of God, - - we are led to Jesus.
When Mary's story is presented only as the story of her special privilege, her Immaculate Conception and being the mother of Jesus, we minimize her role as a humble and obedient disciple. Throughout her earthly life, Mary fully accepted the will of God. She consistently answered yes.
When Gabriel announces his incredible news, Mary’s reaction is not just meek submission. - - She doubts. - - She questions. - - She challenges. - - - She was confused. All of us in one way or another, at one time or another, share the confusion and even fear that Mary must have felt. We likely would react with the same doubts and questions if a stranger appeared to us and related some impossible sounding news. Most of us would want some type of confirmation that what we believed was impossible was in fact possible before we accepted the news or proceeded to follow the other person's plan.
Mary also had to be convinced. In her case, it came down to one phrase spoken by Gabriel – “Nothing is impossible with God.” - - - With this said, Mary totally surrendered and pledged absolute obedience to God. “May it be done to me according to your word.” - - - Mary said ‘Yes’ to God’s plan.
Like Mary, we are faced with a decision, one that is ours alone to make. It is the most important decision we will make in our physical life; will we surrender our pride, - - our will - - and our earthly kingdom to God; - - - will we allow His will, His plan, and His kingdom to become a reality within us. God never forces His will upon us; we are free to accept or reject His plan. When we look to Mary, we see that she always answered "yes"!
Because of the role Mary plays in salvation history, we honor her - - - but we do not worship her; - - - we recognize her as having a special relationship with Christ, - - - but she never takes his place. Mary’s role is to point the way to her Son. She was the ultimate disciple.
Unlike Mary, some of us may fear discipleship. We are aware of our limitations and weaknesses and sometimes may find it hard to believe that we have much to offer to the world. Maybe we are stunned to think that God values us so highly that He includes us and our efforts in His plan. These may have been some of the same thoughts that flowed through Mary's mind when the Angel Gabriel approached her.
So, when we wonder if we can make an act of complete trust and abandon our entire selves into the hands of God, - - we need only look to Mary and her “Yes”. Then we should recognize that when God calls, he also offers the grace necessary to complete His task.
Today we thank God for all the blessings and graces He showered on Mary. Mary's Immaculate Conception is a concrete expression of God's love for her- - - love for one who gave herself fully, completely, and without hesitation to Him.
Pope Benedict XVI said that Mary helps us rediscover and defend what is inside people, because in her there is perfect transparency of soul and body. She is purity in person in the sense that the spirit, soul and body are fully coherent in her and with God’s will. Our Lady teaches us, said the Holy Father, to open up to God’s action and to look at others as he does, starting with the heart, to look upon them with mercy, love, and infinite tenderness, especially those who are lonely, scorned or exploited. Where sins increased, grace overflows all the more.
Saturday, at Vespers, we complete the First Week of Advent; a week of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. Mary’s Advent is one of wonder – and extraordinary trust. She reveals, more than anyone else does, how we should wait for Christ. She is the only human person who lived life the way that God intended it to be lived - sinless.
We honor the Blessed Virgin, today, and we again will pay her homage next week under her glorious title Our Lady of Guadalupe; Patroness of the Americas and of the Unborn. We thank God for Mary, and ask “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death”. Amen.
Well done Deacon Jim, very well done.