Solemnity of the Immaculate
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004
By Rev. Frederick L. Miller
First Reading - Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Second Reading - Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Gospel - Luke 1:26-38
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God." Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
On the solemnity of the Immaculate conception, the Church celebrates the blessing of Mary's creation. As her parents conceived her in their act of marital union, God the Father turned in love toward our sinful race and embraced it to his heart in Mary. Preserving Mary at the moment of her conception from inheriting Adam's sin and, at the same time, anointing her with his presence and grace, the Holy Spirit created Mary uniquely for the Eternal son. Beyond every other human person, Mary is predestined for Christ; chosen to be "holy and blameless in God's sight, to be full of love."
In her Immaculate Conception, God created the world anew, initiating the "new creation" that will not perish in sin and death. God created the "woman" who is the mortal enemy of the "serpent." He created the "New Eve" whose "seed" will crush the "head" of the serpent. In the Immaculate conception, God not only declared war on Satan, sin and death, but ensured the victory. This saving grace, flowing from the foreseen merits of Christ's passion, is infinitely stronger than the evil in our fallen world. The Immaculate Conception is the dawn of our salvation in Jesus Christ. It is the beginning of the victory of God that will only be fully revealed on the last day.
In his encyclical letter, Mother of the Redeemer (#11), Pope John Paul II says: "Mary remains before God, and also before the whole of humanity, as the unchangeable and inviolable sign of God's election, spoken of in Paul's Letter to the Ephesians: 'In Christ . . . He chose us . . . before the foundation of the world . . . He destined us . . . to be His sons' This election is more powerful than any experience of evil and of sin, than all that 'enmity' which marks the history of man. In this history Mary remains a sign of sure hope."
Why, you may ask, did God grace Mary so wondrously at the moment of her creation? First, in the Immaculate Conception, God the Father prepared a worthy dwelling place for his Son. He desired to produce a creature who would possess in her created being a finite, yet immense, likeness of his infinite holiness. He wished his Son, made man, to find a dwelling place as much like Heaven as Heaven itself. Mary is created to be the Paradise of the New Adam. The purity of Mary's being reflects the purity of the Eternal Father.
Though the grace of her Conception, God created the purest freedom in Mary so that she might assent freely and with her entire being to his virginal conception and birth, to his suffering and death, even to his outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Mary is the Bride who freely and lovingly assents with unimpaired freedom to the coming of God into human flesh, into human history. Her fiat is her wedding vow: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say." She is pure welcome, sheer availability, total self-gift. There is nothing in her that resists the coming of the Savior-God. Her joyful reception of the Word reflects finitely the Father's desire to give us everything in the gift of his only son.
Second, by preserving Mary from original and actual sin, God prepared Mary to stand by her son as he offered the sacrifice that reconciles each of us to the Father. If you or I were present on Calvary we would need to fall on our faces at the feet of the crucified Lord, acknowledging that we contributed generously to his suffering and death by our sins. Mary, preserved from sin, was totally vulnerable to Jesus' pain and ready to be taken up by the Holy Spirit into his sacrifice - to offer him back to the Father and to offer her own suffering through him for us. In her anguish on Calvary, the sinless Virgin gave birth again, this time to all the members of the body of her son. She gave birth to the new creation: "Woman, behold your son." The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council admirably described this mystery in Lumen Gentium (#61): "In a wholly singular way, Mary cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace."
A mother to us in the order of grace. This is the third reason for the Immaculate Conception. God prepared Mary at the moment of her conception to be our Mother in the Holy Spirit. Her Immaculate Heart was so dilated by her union with Christ in all of his mysteries that there is a place there for each of us - and a very certain place for those who know that they are sinners and in dire need of Christ's saving grace.
Many priests observe that people sorely in need of God's mercy come back to the sacraments on or around the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This is not difficult to understand. Mary whose heart was never touched by sin or selfishness was prepared by the Holy Spirit to help her children in their personal struggles with sin and selfishness. She is no stranger to sin nor does she turn away from it. With fortitude she witnessed her Son crushed and destroyed by sin as he hung in agony on the cross. In the light of his resurrection, Mary understands that the person truly destroyed on Calvary was Satan; the realities crushed, sin and death. The closer, the more intimate you are with Mary, the more she will help you to know your weaknesses and bring them with confidence to Jesus. She loves, so to speak, to crush the head of the serpent, especially when he tries to intrude himself into the hearts of her children.
One final word: God created Mary Immaculate to participate fully and uniquely in her Son's redeeming work. Sharing the work of Christ, of course, is the mission of every baptized Christian. Our vocation as priests is precisely to administer the grace of the Redeemer to others through the preaching of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and pastoral charity in all its forms. Priests need a particularly intimate union with the mother and associate of the Redeemer. I can say with complete honesty that I owe everything in my priesthood to the intercession of Mary. In fact, I am convinced that any good I may have accomplished as a priest over the past twenty-eight years is entirely her doing. I am even tempted to say, "her fault."
Allow Mary into everything you do for Jesus and his church. Entrust everything - EVERYTHING - to her. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand that nothing supernatural is possible without the maternal help of the Blessed Mother. You may have tons of natural talents which will empower you, humanly speaking, to be apparently successful and popular as a priest. Natural talent does not insure authentic priestly fruitfulness. You will be ordained to be "fathers in the Holy Spirit," to impart and nurture the life of sanctifying grace. Today is the feast of that grace! It is precisely through your filial union with Mary Immaculate that you will be supernaturally fruitful in your priestly lives. On this most sacred of Mary's feasts may you be convinced, as was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that "nothing is impossible for him who has Mary as his mother."