Immaculate Conception of Mary (08 Dec 2009) Gn 3. 9-15, 20; Ps 98; Eph 1. 3-6, 11-12; Lk 1. 26-38
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Full, Rich and Living
The immaculate conception means Mary was untouched by sin from the beginning of her existence. It does not mean that Mary was incapable of sinning but that she chose to have no part with it, like her son of whom scripture says: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet remained apart from sin.1
Recalling Mary Pope Paul VI noted as she was the “first of the redeemed, immaculate from the moment of her conception, the incomparable dwelling-place of the Spirit, the pure abode of the Redeemer of mankind, she is at the same time the beloved Daughter of God and, in Christ, the Mother of all. She is the perfect model of the Church both on earth and in glory.”2 Pope Paul noted also Mary was the first “expression of the purest and most burning joy.”3 How can we begin to share true joy? How is Mary our model? Let me suggest how from art and from a prayerful writer.
When you have stood before a painting of the this gospel scene of the Annunciation, or sat with one in a book open in your hands, have you felt anything in particular? Different artists capture different moments of this gospel-scene in their paintings: the angel addressing Mary; Mary’s confusion; Mary responding to the angel; and all the others moments as well. What I feel from the paintings, some more than others yet common to all of them, is silence. I know that has something to do with what I am seeking to discern God desires for me and from me. Yet, we all discern the particular desires of God for us within our deep self, not in a void but in the very heart of God and ours. Silence limps to describe that full, rich and living truth.
Kathleen Norris, a contemporary, prayerful and reflective writer, described Mary’s silence as model silence:
consider the nature of Mary's silence, which is the gift of being able to sit at God’s feet and listen. It is not silence as enforced by the world, the false silence that an adult seeks to impose on a child, for example, in an abusive relationship. It is not the silence of the story that a browbeaten woman might have told, were it not for social and economic pressures bent on keeping her quiet. It is not the silence of the writer jailed for exposing a lie, or of the political prisoner, whose silence is often bought with blood. It is a good, healthy, open silence, a freeing silence that might lead a person anywhere. Even...to a reading of the Bible that is free to question it, and also to let it question you.4Not “enforced by the world”; or “imposed” by one person on another; neither beaten nor “bought with blood”; rather, “ a good, healthy, open silence, a freeing silence that might lead a person anywhere.” Mary could not have imagined being called to mother God into our world, nor could she have imagined where her Yes would lead.
When you and I discover a renewed or even new allegiance to Mary’s son, his Father and their holy Spirit, then we’ve entered and entertained that full, rich and living silence. When you and I discover a renewed and even new allegiance to Mary’s son, his Father and their holy Spirit, then we taste again Christian joy. When we discover a renewed and even new allegiance to Mary’s son, his Father and their holy Spirit, then we enjoy more clearly God inviting us to grow more humane and to be living channels leading others into “a good, healthy, open silence, a freeing silence,” which gives birth to Jesus here and now for the sake of the gospel and our world.
- Hebrews 4.15. The Greek word we translate as without has an active sense of keeping apart or aloof from.
- On Christian Joy, Apostolic Exhortation of Paul VI, 9 May 1975, Part IV.
- in her Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Riverhead Books 1998).