Thursday, December 8, 2016

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Gn 3:9-15,20
Ps 98:1-4
Eph 1:3-6, 11-12
Lk 1:26-38

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a major feast in the Church and a holy day of obligation.  The dogma of the Immaculate Conception declared by Pius IX in 1854 states that " . . . from the first moment of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."  

This feast has a long and controversial  history.  Reading an abbreviated account of it in the Catholic Encyclopedia gives the impression that compared to debates over the Immaculate Conception in the 12th and 13th centuries, the current debates on global warming have been civilized, cordial and extremely polite.  Much of the debate centered on determining the moment when Mary's soul was sanctified.  Was it before, during or after its infusion into her body? These are arguments that don't surface often today.  Thus, rather than focusing on the metaphysical we are better served by considering the readings from scripture and contemplating their meaning on the occasion of this great feast.  

The reading from Exodus recounting the sin of Adam and Eve and the recounting of the Annunciation from Luke’s Gospel form a parentheses.  Action and reaction.  Doing and undoing.  Disobedience and obedience.  The sin of Adam and Eve had little or nothing to do with an apple or any other kind of fruit in the objective sense.  The interchange with the serpent about the fruit found on the tree in the center of the garden, the tree which God explicitly forbade Adam and Eve to taste, is a metaphor for something complex and uniquely human, that is, the action of free will.  The ability to say yes or no.  The ability to choose or reject a course of action.  The conscious decision to obey or disobey.  The battle between humility and hubris.  Even today much of human sin turns on the same axis of obedience and disobedience that we hear of in this most ancient book.  

In Genesis we hear of Eve's radical disobedience.  Despite being aware of the injunction not to eat of the tree's fruit, it took little persuasion on the part of the serpent for Eve to eat the fruit and share it with Adam.  The ancient author of Genesis understood modern human nature well.  It is amazing how little persuasion we need to intentionally sin.  The contrast between Eve's intentional disobedience and Mary's obedience could not be greater. 

Because she was preserved from original sin, Mary's "yes," her radical obedience to the will of God, could be perfect.  There was most certainly fear and confusion on Mary's part.  We hear it in her word's in the Gospel, “How can this be?”   What thoughts went through her mind as she said this?  What thoughts came into consciousness when she heard the angel's message?  The answer matters little because we hear her yes.  That yes is the only thing that matters.

Mary's yes, her fiat, changed the history of the world.  

That exquisite yes continues to govern the movement of the world in the present.  

Mary's yes that echoed, and continues to echo, through the universe more loudly than the cumulative sound of all the bombs ever dropped.  

Mary's fiat, "Ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum"  continues to echo through the universe.  Her yes will echo even after the universe as we know it has ended. 

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”


The photo at the top is of the  Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France, built between 1872 and 1884. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is attributed with saving Lyon from the bubonic plague that devastated Europe in 1643.  Each year on 8 December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Lyon thanks the Virgin for saving the city in the Fête des Lumières or the Festival of Lights.  The Virgin is also credited with saving the city a number of other times, such as from a Cholera epidemic in 1832, and from Prussian invasion in 1870.

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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