The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:
Grace, Obedience and Trust
Today’s celebration, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is always a holy day of obligation in the United States, even if it comes on a Saturday or a Monday. That is because in 1847 the Church proclaimed Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception as the Patroness of our country. A year earlier, the U.S. bishops had written to the Catholics of this country: “We take this occasion to communicate to you the determination, unanimously adopted by us, to place ourselves and all entrusted to our charge throughout the United States under the special patronage of the holy Mother of God, whose Immaculate Conception is venerated by the piety of the faithful throughout the Catholic Church. By the aid of her prayers, we entertain the confident hope that we will be strengthened to perform the arduous duties of our ministry, and that you will be enabled to practice the sublime virtues, of which her life presents the most perfect example.” In 1849, the U.S. bishops asked Pope Pius IX to declare the Catholic belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free of sin from the first moment of her conception to be a dogma of the Church. When the Holy Father did so in 1854 (Ineffabalis Deus), the bishops of this country decided that December 8 would be observed in every diocese as a holy day of obligation.
So 158 years ago the Bishops called upon us to imitate the virtues of Mary, particularly under the title of Immaculate Conception. What would these virtues be?
We can start, as we should, with the readings for today. The angel Gabriel tells Mary that she is full of Grace. She is united to God. The first woman, Eve, also had been united to God, but she gave up this union pushing God aside. Mary was conceived as the New Eve, a new woman united to God. This is the Immaculate Conception, a person totally united to God from the first moment of her existence within her own mother, St. Anne. Mary did not give up God’s choice of her like Eve did, and as a result Mary agreed to become the Mother of Word Made Flesh.
We are called to live united with God. We have not been conceived free from sin, united to the Lord, but we have been united to God from our Baptism. We are called to continue this union. Today’s second reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians puts it this way:
He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.
In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.
We are part of God’s plan. Like Mary, we are given the Grace of union with God, only in our case through the Gift of Jesus on the Cross. We need to live like Mary, united to God, full of Grace.
Like Mary, we need to listen to God and obey Him. We may not have an angel coming to us telling us what God’s plan is for each of us, but the voice of the Lord is loud and clear in our consciences. We need to listen to it. It amazes me how so many times we come up with contrived arguments to ignore our consciences. Arguments like: “I know this is wrong, but why can’t I just do what everyone else is doing.” Or, “I know I should forgive, but he or she refuses to forgive me.” Maybe Gabriel hasn’t appeared to us, but our Guardian Angels certainly have had a few words or wisdom to share within us.
Like Mary we need to trust in God. “How can this take place?” she asks as any teenage girl would ask if she were told that in God’s plan she would become the Mother of the Word. She trusts completely in God. “Be it done unto me according to your will.” That is what we need to do. We need to let God work his wonders through us, whether we understand how this will take place or not.
Grace, obedience and trust. These are some of the virtues of the Immaculate One whose feast we celebrate today. We pray to her that we might have the courage to join her in fulfilling God’s plan for His People.