The Immaculate Conception of Mary

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

In today's first reading from Genesis, God asks a strange and rather disturbing question. After Adam has eaten of the tree, the Lord God calls to him and says, "Where are you?" Now what is surprising about this question is that God cannot, of course, physically lose anything. Presumably he knows the location of every atom in the universe, and yet he says to Adam, "Where are you?" God has, in some sense, lost the parents of the human race.

What Adam and Eve has lost is "grace", and without grace they can no longer have a face-to-face relationship with God; they hide themselves. This state is, I think, analogous to someone suffering from certain kinds of brain injuries or who suddenly develops autism. Such human beings remain physically present, but they can no longer respond to other persons as persons, they are no longer capable of friendship. Such incapacities serves to illustrate the horror of what it means to lose grace because of sin. Without grace we can still know that there is a God and perhaps even obey God's instructions, but we cannot know God personally, we cannot be friends with God or know God face-to-face. And with the loss of a personal relationship with God, human relationships also begin to deteriorate. Men and women begin to go to war with one another, and human beings begin to suffer from internal conflicts and disorders, resulting eventually in death. These are the consequences of what is called "original sin".

Today's feast day commemorates the first-fruits of God's victory over original sin and the beginning of the salvation of the human race. By the salvation purchased by Jesus Christ, her son, Mary was conceived without original sin, and without the consequent disorder and tendency to sin. Mary was conceived immaculate and the angel Gabriel calls her, "full of grace" to indicate that she possesses what Adam and Eve lost, the supernatural grace of friendship with God. And Mary received this singular grace so that she could be a fitting temple for the Word of God, to conceive and give birth to Jesus Christ, God made man for our salvation. Human beings who had hidden from the sight of God in the Garden of Eden would, through Mary, be able to gaze on the face of God lying in the stable at Bethlehem.

So what is the significance of this feast for us? First, this feast is a kind of promissory note. The salvation given to Mary is a foretaste of our of own salvation, when God will finally defeat sin and death in us, if we allow him to. Second, this feast is a special sign of the importance of Mary in the battle against evil. As well as being the Mother of Christ the Redeemer, she is the Second Eve, the Mother of the Redeemed and our heavenly mother. So it is very important to cultivate devotions to Mary, especially the Rosary, and to call upon her help in times of crisis and temptation, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen".

Father Andrew Pinsent, St Ambrose Church, St Louis, 8th December 2008

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