Friday, December 8, 2017

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Gn Gen 3:9-15,20
Ps 98:1-4
Eph 1:3-6, 11-12
Lk 1:26-38
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the dogma declared by Pius IX in 1854 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 in the Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that, compared to the 12th and 13th centuries arguments over the Immaculate Conception, the contemporary debates on global warning have been most civilized and painfully cordial. Much of the debate then centered on determining the moment when Mary's soul was sanctified; before, during, or after its infusion into her body. These arguments don't surface often today. Thus, rather than focusing on metaphysics, we are better served by considering the scriptural text. 
The reading from Exodus and the recounting of the Annunciation from Luke’s Gospel form a set of parentheses. Disobedience and obedience. Doing and undoing. Action and reaction. 
The sin of Adam and Eve had little--it probably had nothing--to do with an apple or any other kind of fruit in the actual 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, at least in part, a metaphor for something very complex and uniquely human, the action of free will, the ability to say yes or no, the choice to obey or disobey. Human sin always has turned, and always will turn, on the axis of free will determining obedience and disobedience, action and reaction, that we hear in the ancient book. 
In Genesis we hear of Eve's radical disobedience. Despite being aware of the injunction not to eat of the fruit of the tree, it took little persuasion on the part of the serpent for Eve to chose to eat the fruit and share it with Adam. The ancient author of Genesis certainly understood modern human nature well. It is amazing how little persuasion we need to intentionally sin. The contrast between Eve's radical 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 these words? The answer matters little because we hear her yes. 
A yes that changed the history of the world up to and including this moment. 
A yes that echoes through the universe more loudly than the cumulative sound of all the bombs ever dropped. 
A yes that continues to echo through the universe today. 
A yes that will continue to echo after the universe has ended. 
"Ecce ancilla Domini,
fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

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