The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Conceived Immaculately for a New Beginning
Have you ever wished you could just set the clock back? Have you ever said to someone, “Let’s start again?” It really is impossible to do. Once certain things are said, or certain things happen, it is impossible to make believe they didn’t happen, or to start anew. People can try to start again. As Christians we need to forgive others; still, the past hurts always linger under the surface.
It is impossible to start again. Impossible, unless you are God. God can do all things, including starting anew. Mankind was created to be in total union with God, but mankind chose to remove God from his priorities. Mankind sinned. Adam sinned. The forces of evil, the devil, appeared to win. But a Savior would come who would defeat the devil, defeat death itself through total obedience to God. Creation had been entrusted to mankind. A man would restore creation to its original state. The Savior, would therefore be a man, but the Savior had to be a man capable to destroying the grip of the devil. The Father would send the Word to complete this task, to become this man.
But how could the Second Person of the Trinity, the Holy One, enter the world through a person who carried the mark of sin, a person who was not holy. Eve had been holy. But then she sinned. The world needed a new Eve. God made this happen. The creation of the new Eve is the Solemnity we celebrate today, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The prayer at the preparation of the gifts uses the term “prevenient grace.” The means that Mary was given the extraordinary grace of the Immaculate Conception in anticipation of the many graces her son would win on the cross.
The Immaculate Conception is a celebration of Mary. But it is also far more than this. It is a celebration of God’s Plan to save mankind beginning with the conception of Mary. That is the reason why the Gospel presents the Annunciation. The Savior will come through Mary because she is the holy one, the one who is full of grace.
Just as God did not give up on mankind in general, He does not give up on each of us. His plan is that each of us join Mary and, in the way that we are capable, and bring the Savior to the world. We are not immaculately conceived, but we are have been restored to God’s life through the passion death and resurrection of the Lord and through our affirmation of God in our baptism and throughout our lives. We are weak; we sin, but God never gives up on any of us. We have a role to play in the great battle for the Kingdom.
God never gives up on us. We do not have the right to give up on ourselves. We always need to start anew. One of the great popes of my life was St. John XXIII. I love the simple motto he had for living daily life. His motto was, “Now, today, I begin.” It must be the same for each of us.
We pray to Mary today to help us assume our proper role in God’s plan. We ask the holy one, Immaculately Conceived One, to help us her frail and sinful children. We ask her to speak to God for us, to intercede for us, and give us the courage and the strength to fight off evil within ourselves and around ourselves.
O Mary Conceived Without Sin, Pray for us who have recourse to you.
John called out to the people of his time who longed for the Messiah. He is also calling out to people of all time who experience the desperation and darkness of a world that rejects God, and yet, the joy and light in those who accept Jesus Christ. John is calling us to prepare, prepare ourselves, prepare our children, and prepare the world for its Savior.
We prepare ourselves by rooting out the darkness of our lives. That is why we go to confession during Advent. We want to clean the house for company, Special Company, the Presence of the Lord. Many say special prayers during Advent. The Advent Wreath is really a prayer meant for families before dinner. Many spend a little extra time reading scripture. Might I suggest that you reflect on Isaiah 9 & 11.
We prepare our children by teaching them the Christmas story, the real story of the birth of a child in utter poverty, in a smelly stable. We tell them about the proclamation of the angels, the joy of the shepherds and the determination of the wise men. I always feel that families should have two different types of Nativity sets, a nice one for display, and a special one for the children for their touching and playing.
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with constructing the first Nativity scene. I am convinced that the saint of poverty wanted to show the world that true riches are found in the Love of God, the Love of the Holy Family and the Love of holy families, families united to the Lord. As you teach your children about the birth, let them know that Christmas is about God’s Love, not about materialism. One little custom you might want to incorporate into your family is to keep the manger empty until the children are ready to go to bed on Christmas eve. Then have the children put the baby Jesus in the manger and lead the family in singing “Silent Night.”
We prepare the world for its Savior by emphasizing the reason for the celebration. This is Christmas. Don’t say, “Happy Holidays: or “Season Greetings,” say, “Merry Christmas.” Invite family and friends to join you at Mass on Christmas. And when you come to Church and see many whom you do not normally see at Mass, welcome them warmly. Let them know that we want them to be here. There are many people who come back to a regular practice of the faith after being welcomed on Christmas. This is because others, you, prepared the way for them to let Christ into their lives.
We are in preparations mode, preparing not just for the many beautiful facets of the celebration but preparing for the Lord. May our valleys be filled and our mountains and hills be leveled, may our winding roads be made straight, and the rough ways of our lives be made smooth, so that the Messiah may rush into our lives unimpeded. And may we see the salvation of our God, for, indeed, the very name Jesus means God Saves.