Immaculate Conception: All beautiful!

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The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Dec. 8, 2012
Gen 3:9-15, 20; Ps 98; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38

“Where are you?” we hear the Lord God call to Adam in the first reading. “Where are you?” For we read in the previous verse that the Lord is walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and Eve have hidden themselves. On previous days, surely, they had run out to meet their beloved Creator with joy as soon as they perceived his presence near them. But now they have sinned for the first time. They have allowed fear and greed and lies to drive a wedge between them and God, and to reshape them in that twisted image; to place that stain upon their hearts, and upon human nature itself which they would pass on to their descendents forever after. Suspecting, accusing, hiding, lying, taking, killing: all of this and more in the stain of original sin.

Thousands of years later, someone else is looking for someone: for the Lord has sent the mighty archangel Gabriel, not only to earth, but to a remote province of the Roman Empire, to the little town of Nazareth, to a simple girl probably in her early teens. And the Virgin Mary does not hide; she does not lie; she is not at all ashamed. “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,” he says to her—in an unparalleled address of great honor from an angel to a mere human being. No wonder she was troubled by it. For she had always loved God, always trusted him, always sought his presence in prayer and worship and quiet contemplation; but this was an intimacy of enormous and dizzying proportions! No wonder she pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

But she did not hide; she did not flee; she did not close up and pull back and turn away. No, to this invitation that surpassed anything she could have ever expected; that went beyond the limits of her understanding; that promised human dangers that she could imagine all too easily—she listened; and she said yes. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

But how? How did she stay open, when her first parents and ours, and so many after them, had hidden themselves? Because the Lord had preserved her from their stain. By a singular grace and privilege, from the first moment of her conception, she was preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (Pope Pius IX, in CCC 491) Alone among the human race she was free from that stain; alone among the human race, she would therefore let herself be filled with grace. Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula non est in te: You are all beautiful, O Mary, and there is no stain in you.

But why? Why would God give our Lady this singular grace? And here we enter into precisely where Adam and Eve went wrong. For he was not motivated by any sort of grasping self-interest; nor by any form of necessity, as if he were forced to take this step to accomplish some objective—even the objective of saving the human race. No, this lavish gift was utterly free. And the only way we can explain it is by love; sheer love; which the Son showered upon the one he was choosing to be his mother, even as he was creating her as her God: that he would make her all beautiful and all love.

Naturally, our Lady’s first reaction to this grace was awe and trembling. But that did not last long. Soon enough, she would be singing to her relative St. Elizabeth:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. (Luke 1:46-49)

And the great things that our Lord did for the Virgin Mary foreshadowed the great things that he would do for us. That he preserved her free from that stain, pointed toward the day when he would wash you and me clean from it in the font of baptism; and wash us again and again in confession. And as beautiful as he made her, so he also wants to make us, in time: all beautiful and all love.

If we will only open our hands and our hearts to his grace, the same grace that showered upon her, soon we too will be singing with St. Paul:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.

Can we trust him—to make us new? Ask the Blessed Mother. And what does she say? “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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