Friday, December 08, 2006

The Immaculate Conception

(Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; This homily was given 8 December, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.)

We are still just at the beginning of Advent, that time of preparation for the coming of Christ into our world. Today on this Solemn Feast of the Immaculate Conception we are reminded that we are not the only ones who celebrate Advent. God Himself prepares, in a particular and beautiful way, for the coming of Christ into the world. His preparation is Holy Mary, the Immaculate Conception.

Now, the Immaculate Conception is often mistaken for the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary. That is a popular mis-conception. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s being conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Ann. We believe, as Catholics, that Mary was preserved free from all stain of Original Sin because of the merits of Christ, who suffered and died on the cross to defeat sin and death for us all.

The question we can ask ourselves today on this feast is: Why? Why did God choose to do that? What is the reason for the Immaculate Conception?

Centuries of the Church’s teaching and wisdom have given us two distinct and fitting replies to that question. Firstly, when God was preparing to send His Son into the world, He desired for Christ to be untouched by sin. He wanted Jesus to be born of a woman who was not just really good, or even 90% free from sin. He wanted the person who gave life to Christ in this world to be a virgin totally free from all stain of sin. “And that virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:27).

But more than that, there is a second fitting reason for the Immaculate Conception. Mary is free from Original Sin and all actual sins so that she would be totally free to say “Yes” to God’s plan at all times. Mary did not just say, “Yes,” to be the mother of Christ and give birth to Him. She said, “Yes,” to caring for Him and raising Him with great love and devotion. She said, “Yes” all throughout her life, and perhaps never more than when she stood at the foot of the cross. Mary stood in the icy shadow of the cross and cried out with her whole heart, “Yes,” while her Son was giving life to the world.

That is Mary, the Immaculate Conception! And that is God’s Advent, God’s preparation for the coming of Christ into this world. It should come as no surprise that our Advent and our preparation for the coming of Christ is very much the same thing.

God wants to come into our lives, just as He came into Mary’s. The same body of Christ that entered into Mary’s body, will enter our own body in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Have we truly prepared for that? God’s desire for us is the same as it was for Mary. He wants to enter into a person who is free from sin.

Obviously, that is—in a certain sense—a problem. You and I are not the Immaculate Conception. We have all been born with Original Sin. But God has taken care of that, hasn’t He? Through the gift of baptism, we have been cleansed of Original Sin.

And for the sins we have committed since then, God has also provided. He has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, by which we are forgiven of actual sins committed against God and one another.

As we enter more deeply into the season of Advent, have we taken the time to make a good confession? Have we given God the opportunity He desires to make us more completely free from sin and totally open to His call and His work in our lives?

Through the prayers of Mary Immaculate, may we continue to open our hearts up more and more completely to God. May our lives be free from sin and free to follow God’s plan for our lives and for all that He wants to accomplish in the world around us.