Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception: God’s Plan of Mercy
Today’s second reading, from the Letter to the Ephesians tells us that we were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before the Lord.
We were also given the free will to return the choice, to choose God.
Adam and Eve were holy and without blemish, but they had the free will to choose God or to reject God. They decided that they didn’t need God. They believed the serpent who told them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would be like God. They believed the devil’s lie that God didn’t want them to be like Him; that’s why they were not to eat of that tree. Interesting that the devil himself when he was Lucifer, God’s light bearer, tried to make himself like God. Michael, the archangel whose name is a question, “Who is like God?” led God’s forces to throw the devil out of heaven. And now here’s the devil in the form of a serpent in Genesis, telling Adam and Eve that they could be like God.
This sin of pride is repeated over and over throughout the ages, and over and over in our own time. Throughout history people have wanted to be free from religion. The word religion means being bound to God. In the present time many people view religion as restrictive. They try to convince others, try to convince us, that we shouldn’t let religion dictate our way of life. We should be free to live outside the teaching of the Church. “Belief in God keeps you from enjoying life to it fullest,” they claim. “You can be happy without faith, even happier than you are now,” they add. Some people can become demanding, even fierce, in requiring people of faith to join them in their immorality. Many have felt that their jobs or their careers are in jeopardy if they don’t go to the wild party, the strip joint with the others at the convention, if they don’t forget what is moral and join in cheating others, particularly the elderly and vulnerable. They give in to the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit, to reject God if only this one time, or in this one area, and they condemn themselves to hypocrisy at best, spiritual suicide at worse.
Recently, I’ve been taking a literature course on modern novellas, short novels. Thirty six novels are presented and touted as some of the greatest modern short novels. God is not present, and not needed, by the characters in most of the novels. Nor by their authors. So many of these novels ends in the main characters falling into a state of ennui, of being convinced that life is a tedious struggle, a rush to all that is useless. This is the fruit of life without God.
That was the fate of human kind once it decided that it did not need God. Mankind exercised his choice and continues to exercise his choice to reject God.
Before Jesus Christ, mankind was in the grip of the devil. His only end was death. But the first reading tells us that God loves us too much to give up on us. God is merciful. He would send us one who would crush the head of evil. The Savior would restore eternal life to mankind. The Savior would be the holiest of the holy. He would be one who existed before the foundation of the world. He would be the eternal Word.
God had a plan, a plan of mercy. That plan would be for the eternal Word to become a man, the Word would be made flesh. The very Spirit of God would overshadow a woman who be greater than Eve. Eve was the mother of the living. This woman, Mary, would become the mother of those given eternal life. Mary would be greater than Eve because she would choose God rather than push him aside. We heard about Mary’s choice of God in today’s Gospel when she says to the angel, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
For Mary to be the mother of the Eternal Word become flesh, she would have to have been created in the same state of Eve. Mary would have to be the new Eve not just in a figurative way, but in a realistic way. Mary would have to be created holy and without blemish, free of all sin. The doctrine that Mary was created without the stain of sin is called the Immaculate Conception. That is the solemnity we celebrate today.
Mary was created without sin. Mankind has the ability once again to choose eternal life. God’s mercy has been extended to all of us. But we are still confronted with the temptation to reject God and choose temporary happiness and permanent death. Therefore we pray to Mary today, our Immaculately Conceived Mother, the New Eve, to intercede for us to give us the courage, the determination, to choose God, to choose the way her son and His Son set for us.