Thursday, December 08, 2005

Freedom & The Immaculate Conception

(Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; This homily was given 8 December, 2005, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.)

Where are you most free in your life right now? Where are the places that you feel less free or perhaps not free at all?

One of the greatest gifts that we have been given by God is the gift of freedom. Many of the saints tell us that freedom is the thing that makes us most like God. Yet freedom can be easily misunderstood, easily misused; that is something we all experience each day.

Because of our fallen human nature—the fact that we are tainted by original sin—we do not always make the choices that we ought to make. It has been said that the easiest doctrine of faith to prove is original sin. We see its effects everywhere. Just look at the newspaper, or turn on the TV. Closer to home, we can all think of times when we have said or done things that we regret, things that we knew were wrong. We made the wrong choices.

Thankfully, God does not leave us on our own when we make the wrong choices; His passion and desire for our lives is forgiveness and total freedom in Christ; that is why Jesus dies on the cross, to save us and free us from sin.

God is constantly offering us His grace—supernatural help to overcome the effects of original sin—so that we can become more free and more alive in Christ. The goal of life, the point of our existence, is to accept that grace and act on it, to grow closer to God and to each other. We are called to live in an eternal relationship with God, and the only way that is possible is by the grace God offers.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the belief that Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. [Not to be confused with the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary; the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Ann].

We believe that Mary was preserved from original sin by the merits of Christ, before He was born, and before He suffered and died on the cross. Mary is redeemed by Christ, just as you and I are. But Mary was given a special grace—in fact, filled with grace as we hear in the Gospel—because she was the one who would carry the Redeemer in her body.

Because Mary was free from original sin, and because she was filled with grace and never committed sin, she was totally free to do the will of God at all times. You could say that she was the most liberated woman who ever lived!
She shows us what it means to be fully human and completely free in this world.

I am sure it was not easy for Mary to make some of the choices she made: to say yes to an unexpected pregnancy that would change her life forever; to let her Son leave home, knowing he would never return; to stand at the foot of the cross, supporting her Son in His suffering and death. These were not easy decisions, but they were the right ones, and an example for all of us who must make choices of our own each day.

And so, we can ask ourselves again: Where are we most free in our lives right now? Where are the places that we are less free, that we find it a struggle or a difficulty to do the right thing? Through the intercession and example of Mary, may we come to realize that we are never alone in the decisions of life.

God—who filled Mary with grace and preserved her from original sin—gives us grace in our own lives to overcome whatever keeps us from being totally free and totally faithful to Christ. Might we also rejoice with Mary this day, and come to share more completely in the freedom that her Son came to bring us.