Genesis 3:9-15; Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12; Luke 1:26-38
Today, the whole Christendom celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception as dogma in 1854, emphasizing the long-held Catholic belief that Mary herself 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 the popular belief and devotion of Catholics about Mary throughout the centuries.
Our First Reading (Gen3:9-15) today reminds us that it was a woman who was instrumental in bringing pain and suffering, the result of sin, to the whole world. It will also be a woman who will be instrumental in bringing to the world its salvation and healing.
The Second Reading (Eph 1:3-6,11-12 ) tells that all of us have been called by God to share his love and blessings long before we even existed. This is even more true of Mary, who was singled out from eternity by God to be the Mother of his Son.
The Gospel (Luke 1:26-38) speaks, not of Mary’s conception, but that of Jesus. It begins with the moment Mary declares that ‘Yes’. The angel greets her as “full of grace,” filled with God’s love and God’s favor, specially singled out for this moment. This has always been interpreted as indicating Mary’s total freedom from any taint of sin. As “Ark of the Covenant” it was felt that the Incarnate Word should begin his human existence in an environment untouched by sin.
So central is Mary’s vocation as Mother of God, that from conception to assumption, every grace, every blessing she enjoyed evolves and revolves around it. Today, we celebrate the single grace accorded to the would-be-Mother of God, Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
This means that Mary, from the first moment of her existence, was totally free from the influence of universal sinfulness which touches us all from the beginning of our existence. The reason behind this belief is that only a totally sinless environment was fitting for the Son of God in his becoming a human being.
We, in our mushroom production industry, are well aware of the importance of cleanliness. We sanitize and disinfect with bleach solution the soaking barrels and shelves for the Shiitake Mushroom logs. We pasteurize wheat straw to make it fit to be the growing medium for the Oyster Mushroom. To skip this process would greatly negatively affect mushroom growth.
Simply put, this may crudely illustrate the value of the immaculate conception to the Lord’s incarnation. Only a sinless human mother can give birth to Jesus as a sinless human person, whose eventual death comes not as a result of sin but for the expiation of sin. This was affected by having Mary as the foremost recipient of Christ’s salvific act. In proclaiming the dogma in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared that “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”
Each of the readings challenges us:
We have often been the cause of sin and pain in other people’s lives. Let us rather be the one who brings wholeness and healing.
Let us be deeply aware that, long before we were born, every single one of us has been called by God to know, love and serve him. We have been the constant recipients of his blessings. How do we respond? Unlike Mary, we were born touched by the sinful world. But we also can become filled with grace if, like her, we say a resounding and unconditional ‘Yes’ to all that God wants and wills for us.
Let us take up the challenge of Mary’s docility, that we may be open to God’s action to prepare a worthy space to welcome Him into ourselves. Notice how at this very Eucharistic Celebration, we allow God to first cleanse us of our sins so we can worthily welcome the Word of God and worthily partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. For a moment, in His great love and mercy, God blesses us to become spotless as Mary was at her conception, if only to make us worthy to encounter Him. It is up to us to keep this up.
So, let us ask Mary today to help us to love Jesus as she did. Let us beg Mary to help us today to be worthy instruments of presenting and proclaiming the Lord’s presence in our contemporary world thru our lives.