Immaculate Conception: Open hands, open heart

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Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Dec. 8, 2011

Gen 3:9-15, 20; Ps 98; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38

Today we celebrate that great gift that was given to the Virgin Mary from the first moment of her conception—a unique gift to prepare her for her unique vocation to be Mother of God. And our Scripture readings set her beside Eve—one woman and the other, so often compared, so often contrasted. And as the two of them come into focus, one thing that draws my attention is their body language—especially what they are doing with their hands.

For Eve’s hands, earlier in the same chapter of Genesis from which the first reading is taken, had closed—in fear and suspicion of God. She had reached out with them to take the fruit from the forbidden tree. She had covered herself with them out of shame for her nakedness and sin. And now she points at the serpent in accusation.

By what she does with her hands, Eve shows what she has broken through her sin. With Adam, she has broken the original harmony in which they were created: a harmony between her and God; between her and other human beings; between her and the rest of nature; and also within herself, between one aspect of her person and another. And so she has stained human nature itself—so that all those who descend from them will be conceived and born with this stain: with their hands also closed and covering and grabbing and accusing.

But one person—the Virgin Mary—received the singular grace and privilege of almighty God of being preserved immune from all stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception. (Pope Pius IX, quoted in CCC 491) Mary was conceived and born and lived her life with the harmony that was originally intended; without fear and suspicion of God, without shame, without accusation. And her hands? Open! Open to receive; open to give. Open to receive all the graces that the Lord wished to give her; open to receive the hearts of others; open to give that grace and her love to others.

And so, when the archangel Gabriel encountered her, he could greet her with a unique name: “Hail, full of grace.” For her immaculate conception had made this truth possible, that she was full of grace; that her open hands had allowed her to be filled with grace.

The Lord also wants to give us many graces; but are our hands open to receive them? We all were born with that stain, that “macula,” of original sin. And it was washed away in baptism—but some of the damage that it caused in use remains. And so we have the inclination to close our hands, to cover, to fear, to be suspicious, to grab, to accuse. We have this inclination, left behind from that stain, to not receive the graces that the Lord offers us, to not give what he wants us to share with others.

The Catechism tells us (1264) that this inclination was left in us to wrestle with, so that we may manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ. So that we may share in his fight; so that we may share in his victory, won in us. And when at last we arrive at that blessed state, at the side of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, she will rejoice with us, that we have indeed been made holy and without blemish like her.

And now she urges us on in our wrestling: to trust in God and not be afraid of him; to receive what he wants to give us and not refuse it; to say yes to his invitations to us and not no; to stand with hands open, not closed; proclaiming with her the greatness of the Lord, rejoicing in God our Savior.

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