Tag Archives: Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception

Some question why Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has such a big place in the faith of  our church. The words of the angel in Luke’s gospel, words we often repeat in prayer, offer an answer: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

Mary is full of grace, gifted by God with unique spiritual gifts from her conception, because she was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

She would be the “resting place of the Trinity,” and would give birth to, nourish, guide and accompany Jesus in his life and mission in this world. To fulfill that unique role she needed a unique gift. She would be free from original sin that clouds human understanding and slows the way we believe in God and his plan for us.

“How slow you are to believe” Jesus said to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Jesus made that complaint repeatedly as he preached the coming of God’s kingdom. “How slow you are to believe!” “What little faith you have!” “Do you still not understand!” That human slowness to believe didn’t end in gospel times. We have it too.

Mary was freed from that slowness to believe. “Be it done to me according to your word,” she immediately says to the angel. Yet, her acceptance of God’s will does not mean she understood everything that happened to her. “How can this be?” she asks the angel about the conception of the child. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”  But the angel’s answer seems so incomplete, so mysterious.

Surely, Mary would have liked to know more when the angel leaves her, never to return. There’s no daily message, no new briefing or renewed assurance by heavenly messengers. The years go by in Nazareth as the Child grows in wisdom and age and grace, but they’re years of silence. Like the rest of us, Mary waits and wonders and keeps these things in her heart.

That’s why we welcome her as a believer walking with us. She is an assuring presence. She calls us to believe as she did, without knowing all. She does not pretend to be an expert with all the answers. She has no special secrets known to her alone. “Do whatever he tells you,” is her likely advice as we ponder the mysteries of her Son.

 

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

We tend to see the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, which says that Mary was preserved from original sin from conception, as a gift just for her and not affecting us at all,  a gift that makes her unlike us.

St. Anselm, the 12th century monk, later archbishop of Canterbury, sees it differently. Mary shows us what being human and being part of God’s creation was meant to be. She’s the first to be blessed by Jesus Christ, her son. All of us, yes creation itself,  benefit from the gift:

“Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to our power or use – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless to us or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by human acts of idolatry. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices.

“The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God, its Creator, it sees God openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

“Through the fullness of the grace given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

“Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.”

Ponce de Leon

Just down the road from Immaculate Conception Parish here in Melbourne Beach is a small park on the beach commemorating the spot where the Spanish explorer and 1st Governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon (1475-1521) touched down in Florida in April 2, 1513. He came with three ships and over 200 crewmen, looking for gold and new land for Spain–not for the  “Fountain of Youth” as later legend claimed.

He called the land “Florida” because it was the Easter season, in Spanish “Pascua florida,”  “Easter of the flowers.”

There’s going to be a big celebration here next April, 2013, 500 years after his arrival.

Certainly, that day brought grief to the native peoples, many of whom suffered death and enslavement at the hands of the newcomers. The Spaniards who came were battle-hardened veterans of the recent triumphant campaign against the Moors and they used the tools of war to get their way.

So what’s to celebrate? Can we say this was in God’s plan that his kingdom come through Jesus Christ. The conquerors were Christians who came here, and  like their Jewish predecessors who invaded Canaan from the Sinai desert centuries ago,  they came by way of the sword. Unfortunately, we learn the teachings of Jesus slowly, “Put your sword into its place, for those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”

Religion, in spite of what many think, looks to the future more than the past. It’s about what is to come and how we can get there. Our nation is dedicated to Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception. She was free from the sin that marked her ancestors and ours. The dedication expressed a hope that this new land be unmarked by the old rivalries, ambitions and sins of the Old World.

That hope may still be unfulfilled, but it’s interesting that close by the site where Ponce de Leon came ashore, where the 500th anniversary celebration will occur next Easter, is the Church of the Immaculate Conception, dedicated to the humble woman who carried no sword.

Can our Catholic faith offer that noble hope for the years to come?