Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Tuesday 8th December 2020
Today the Church celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast is about how God acted in an extraordinary way in the life of the Mary, so that from even the first moment of her own conception, she was rescued from the power of original sin.
What does this even mean?
Original sin is a fact of our existence, a sad fact that characterises the human condition. It darkens our intellect, distorts our imagination, and positions our will so as to be susceptible to sin. We are born this way and it seems that our own efforts have only a limited ability to remedy this situation. Because of original sin, the inclination towards sin is a part of who we are from the very beginning- from the first moment of our own conception. This inclination towards sin affects us in lots of ways and we know its consequences whether in the heroic failings shown recently by men like Theodore McCarrick, Jeffrey Epstein or Harvey Weinstein.
Sin at its base is our refusal of God. “What we forget is how much religion costs. We can all too easily think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” And as the American writer Flannery O’Connor says, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.” I have always found the idea that Mary is separated from the rest of creation in order to bear God, a bit troubling surely the most interesting thing about her is that she, a person like you and me, could not only bear God, but parent Him. As Michael Longley says “The cosmos shaper has come down to earth and Mary is counting his fingers and toes”. I think one way to look at her sinlessness is to see her being totally aligned with God’s purpose and the mission of her son Jesus Christ. That reading from St Paul to the Ephesians helps us think this through in that it confidently asserts that God chose us to be holy before the world was made and to live through love in his presence and to live our life to the praise of his glory. In other words just as Mary is made sinless by the redemptive action of her Son, so we too have the same possibility of being worked over by the grace of God.
No one will ever be the Mother of God other than Mary. The singular grace conferred on Mary speaks to our own situation in another way, in that the self-evidence of a world animated by Christian principles is no longer apparent. And maybe Mary’s singular calling can give us heart to try and live out our own singular callings. But we are called to live out his call to accept His plan for us formed from before the world was made. That it’s His plan not ours is of course one of the biggest hurdles to accepting it. But this journey is mainly deep within us, and in this regard I believe that the basic experience of everyone is the same experience of human limitation but saints ultimately are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of holiness makes it possible for them to admire everybody else. And then we too can point like she does to the Saviour and the way.