The Immaculate Conception is a solemnity that perhaps is not in our spiritual conscience as much as it should be, even though it's the partronal feast of the United States and a holy day of obligation on our Church's calendar. Before we go any further in our celebration today I want to clarify two points. First, today’s solemnity usually comes on December 8, but because that day falls on the 2nd Sunday in Advent, it is moved to the next day this year, on Monday, December 9. Also, even many very devoted cradle Catholics think that this celebration is about how Jesus was immaculately conceived in his mother’s womb, but it is really about how Mary herself was immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother – St Anne. Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be dogma in 1854, emphasizing the long-held Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin. The origins of this feast go back to the eastern Church in the 7th century. In many ways, the tradition of the Immaculate Conception and its theology can be traced directly to the piety of the faithful themselves and what the Catholics in the pews have really believed about Mary throughout the centuries.
We hear the Angel Gabriel declaring Mary to be “full of grace,” as Mary receives all the special divine graces she needs to fulfill her task as the Mother of our Lord. All the words the Angel declares to Mary is in relationship to her role as the Mother of Christ; hence, Pope Pius 9th is able to state that the graces given to Mary were in consideration of the Merits of Christ. We can believe without any doubt that Mary, too, was saved by the sacrifice of her Son, but that this salvation was worked out retroactively to be in effect even at the moment of her conception. The Church always emphasizes that Mary never points to herself, but always brings us to her Son. The same could be said about the Immaculate conception that we celebrate today, how this special celebration points us to Christ.
Our society today sees so many things as disposable, even people. In fact, I recently heard us described as a “Walmart society” – if we don’t want something we just return it or we throw it away. What a witness we have in the Virgin Mary – perhaps this is why the example of her life and the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception are needed even more so in our modern world. When even the greatest prophets of Ancient Israel, prophets such as Jeremiah, Moses, & Isaiah, responded to their call with trembling and fear, Mary trusted completely in God's word without knowing all of the consequences of her decision. Mary doesn't try to work out the best and worst case scenarios of God's calling for her, she doesn't go through a decision-making analysis like so many managers use in the business world. Mary instead relates to God with her whole being, making her decision out of her relationship with God with love and integrity. She responds to God through the Angel Gabriel: “May it be done to me according to your Word.”
May we rejoice in Mary as the Mother of our Savior and the Mother of the Church in her response to being open to God's will in her life. As Mary points us to her Son, may we prepare a place in our hearts for God's revelation in Christ during these days we have left in Advent. As Mary went beyond her personal one-on-one relationship with God in her life and in her calling, may our relationship with God lead us to a more profound commitment to our world and to our brothers & sisters. As we prepare for the birth of Christ, how will God's presence through his birth make us more profoundly present in our world?