Our Pastor’s Corner, December 8, 2013, Second Sunday of Advent
Advent is a time to cultivate an attitude of joyful expectation. In reflecting on how we might cultivate this spiritual expectancy, we look to our Blessed Mother. The pregnant Virgin gives us a fruitful image of how we might live Advent well. Just as Mary experienced both the pains and joys of expectation for the birth of her child, so too, we are called to prepare our minds and hearts in anticipation of his birth in our lives. In fact, there are two significant Marian feasts during these 4 weeks: the Immaculate Conception (normally Dec 8, but Dec 9 this year) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec 12). This 2nd week of Advent, we will reflect on the significance of Mary as the Immaculate Conception, and next week, we will consider the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Mary in Advent, Part I: The Immaculate Conception
“I am the Immaculate Conception.” This is how the Lady of Lourdes identified herself to young Bernadette Soubirous in the apparition grotto. Just four years previous, on December 8, 1854, the Church formally stated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in Pope Pius IX’s pronouncement Ineffabilis Deus: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.” There are three key aspects of Immaculate Conception which enrich our faith. First, the Immaculate Conception concerns the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, traditionally know as St Anne. This is to be distinguished from the virgin birth of Jesus. Some mistakenly think that the Immaculate Conception refers to the moment when Christ became Incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. However, that joyous moment is celebrated on March 25 (nine months before Christmas) on the feast of the Annunciation.
Second, it affirms that Mary is protected from all original sin, i.e., the sin we “inherit” from our first parents. When we speak of “original” sin, it does not refer to the personal sins and selfish actions that we freely choose. Rather, original sin refers to the proclivity to selfishness that we are born with, sort of a “Murphy’s law,” of spirituality: “anyone who has been stained by sin, will chose sin.” As Catholics we affirm that God preserved the Blessed Virgin Mary from this original sin in order that she might be a worthy and fitting vessel to receive the all holy, all loving Word of God in her very womb.
Third, not only was Mary immaculately conceived in view of her role as the Mother of God, but because of the very actions of her Son. In other words, Mary needed a Savoir. Even though Mary was immaculately conceived before the birth of her Son and, as Gabriel attests is “full of grace,” it is only the grace of her Son’s saving death and resurrection that makes this possible. In Luke 1:47, Mary proclaims: “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Mary was not preserved from sin because of her own holiness or merits, rather, she was holy because of the grace won for her by her Son.
At the core of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is the beauty of God’s providence. God not only sent us His Son, but in choosing, blessing and sanctifying the Virgin Mary, He gave us a mother. Since we are “adopted” as God’s children through the Son, we look to Mary as a mother who always inspires, enlightens and guides us her children to her Son. As we continue to anticipate and prepare for the renewal of Jesus in our lives, let us ask our mother Mary to open our hearts as she did, so that Christ may be conceived in our minds and heart afresh.
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P., in front of the windows of Sts. Joahcim & Anne, with the Christ Child and Mary kneeling below. These windows are in the south transept, facing the reproduction of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Mary: A Woman of Strength
Mary of Nazareth is the strongest woman I know.
At the awkward age of fourteen, God’s messenger arrives at her home with a marriage proposal. She dutifully accepts, not at all sure what she got herself into. Barely giving herself enough time to say goodbye to her parents (not to mention her fiancé), she leaves for the hill country to tend to Elizabeth. Months into her pregnancy and showing, she returns. Imagine the gossip. Imagine how her pristine reputation is now destroyed. It makes sense that Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly—who would want to walk into such an unsure situation?
This is the woman who—knowing that she was risking her life—stood at the foot of the cross of her criminal son. She stayed in the Upper Room surrounded by terrified men who acted like boys. She was the manifestation of fidelity when the Twelve (understandably) ran away.
For her stout-hearted fidelity, her Son assumed her to heaven and sat her right next to Him, crowning her with glory and praise.
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us!
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!
Cause of Our Joy, pray for us!
~ Fr. Isaiah Mary Molano, O.P.