Pastor’s Message December 9th, 2018

This past Friday evening and Saturday morning, we celebrated the solemn feast of Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception. Not only is our country dedicated to her, but also the largest church in North America, and many other cathedrals and churches throughout the world. It is no understatement, then, to say that this truly was a great day of rejoicing for us as we gathered for this Mass on this Solemnity. Hopefully, everyone made it to Mass for this feast. If not, the Confession lines are open next Saturday!
For being such an important element of our Catholic faith, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is not the easiest teaching to understand. Some people confuse the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin Birth, erroneously thinking that it refers to Jesus being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit rather than the actual teaching that the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without Original sin. For such reasons, during the times in our society when literacy rates were relatively low, catechesis on various aspects of our Catholic faith was communicated through the medium of artwork. Paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and stained glass windows all served to tell the story of different aspects of our faith. When it comes to the Immaculate Conception, artists were faced with a tough situation.
Mary’s being conceived without original sin is a rather abstract idea. The soul is invisible and, therefore, impossible to accurately depict through visible means. Several attempts at it have been made, many of which are quite beautiful. Yet, it’s easy to confuse it with the Mary’s Assumption into Heaven. The image of Mary standing on the crescent moon, a symbol that is often associated with the Immaculate Conception, is what really identifies that image accurately.
Many critics point to the absence of any explicit reference to the Immaculate Conception in the Bible as a challenge to understanding this dogma. This is not new to our Catholic faith, as there are other concepts and terms which we use that, while not explicit in the Scriptures, are well-grounded in Divine Revelation. For example, the Trinity or Purgatory, are words which never occur in the Bible, but are supported when seen in the “unity of the whole of Scripture” and the “living tradition of the whole Church.”
The readings given to us on December 8th provide us with a solid scriptural foundation for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It begins with the story of the creation of human life in the Garden of Eden. Our first parents abused the freedom that had been given to them as they chose to disobey the command of the Lord. At that point, God certainly could have given up on humanity, but He did not! instead, He put into motion a plan that would restore humanity’s relationship to God. We get a hint of what this plan will involve when we hear the Lord say to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Gen. 3:16). This passage is telling us already that God’s plan for restoration will involve humanity in some way.
Then, in the Gospel, we see how those words spoken by the Lord so long ago would come about through the Incarnation, through which the humanity of Jesus would reconcile us back to that relationship with God that had been lost through Original sin. God chose to become man, to be like us in all things, except sin. That includes being born through the womb of a woman, Mary. Because His coming into the world was so unique, it shouldn’t surprise us that God would choose a unique way in which He would come into the world, while still respecting the normal biological means of giving birth. So, He preserved this woman from any stain of Original sin from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother. This is the Immaculate Conception. It is this mystery foretold in the verse from the Song of Songs: “there is no blemish in you,” that is, “there is no stain of sin in you.”
In the final analysis, even though we give special honor to the Blessed Mother on that day, the reason for this feast day, and all Marian feast days for that matter, is Christ. Mary’s being conceived immaculately was in preparation for that moment when the angel announced to her that she would become the mother of the Savior who would “save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). Pope St. John Paul II called the Immaculate Conception “the turning point in history of man’s salvation,” for it was the first physical event in the execution of the plan formed long ago for our restoration to God. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive, so that we can move closer to our ideal of being “holy and without blemish before him” (Eph. 1:4).
May we turn to Mary and grasp her hand, asking her to lead us to a deeper experience of Her Son’s mercy in our lives. Having experienced that profound gift, let us imitate her, that just as she went in haste to carry the merciful love of God to her cousin Elizabeth we, too, may set out to be witnesses of this mercy to the world around us, advancing the Lord’s plan to bring all of humanity into His Kingdom where there will be no end.