Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (08 Dec 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Becoming Marvelous Deeds
Before our division between Catholic and Protestant Christians venerated Mary immaculate. Immaculate meant divine graciousness preserved Mary from the stain—immaculate means with no stain—of sin. This centuries-old doctrine was in the 19th Century elevated to dogma. Dogmas affirm what scripture affirms and what Christians affirm. Articles of faith are not hastily or lightly pronounced.
I have been consoled by the faith of many, in particular my parents, grandparents and my sister and her family. Feeling consoled for me has given me freedom to embrace what they have embraced. To embrace is much broader than to understand. No one can understand God and God’s gracious love, yet many embrace God and the gracious love God pours into us. I’d like this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception to invite us all to embrace anew the mystery of God with us.
St. Ignatius helped me later in life to do that in a way which appealed to and deepened my belief in the mystery of the Incarnation and continues to help me embrace Mary’s total surrender to God. This is how St. Ignatius helped me.
St. Ignatius expressed the purpose of the Incarnation this way: “[The Trinity] decide[d] in their eternity that the Second Person should become a human being in order to save the human race.”1 For me, either because I fell asleep in religion class or because it didn’t register because of my youth, the phrase, “in their eternity,” spoke clearly and consolingly. Clearly, because although eternity is beyond my understanding God included me in it. Consolingly, because God became human in Jesus for me and for you. Talk about graciousness! No one swayed our triune God; rather, God could not not love humans, whom God created as the crown of creation.
Becoming fully human meant God desired to ally with humanity. The ally, of course, was none other than Mary. Her total surrender—Behold, I am the slave of the Lord!—allowed the Incarnation to happen in time. The graced intuition of many faithful Christians, that Mary was immaculate—untouched by sin’s effects—never interfered with their relationship with the Trinity, Mary, the saints and one another. Their graced intuition drew them closer to the Trinity, Mary, the saints and one another! Their graced intuition allowed them to embrace the Trinity, Mary, the saints and one another by how they lived day to day: embrace not merely to understand.
Do spouses ever totally understand each other? No, yet that doesn’t stop them from embracing in ways which surpass physical embraces, ways even more real than our flesh and blood. The same can be said for parents and children; for close friends; and for people who the twists of life bring close, like one who gives her kidney to another; or like one who saved the life of another at the scene of an accident or in an E.R.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is no mind game. It affirms God’s divine graciousness and Mary’s free, total surrender to God. The dogma affirms there could be no incarnation of the Second Divine Person to save you and me without both God and Mary. More, if there can be more than that, this dogma invites us to embrace the mystery and to allow ourselves to be embraced by it.
That it’s no mind game means that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception sheds light on our relationships: our relationship with the Trinity, Mary, the saints and one another. As the dogma affirms God’s grace creating Mary’s freedom and Mary’s free, total surrender to God, it offers you and me a clearer image of ourselves. God creates us at each moment always respecting our freedom. As God in Jesus embraced our humanity, rejecting none of it, Mary’s total surrender to God gives us courage to embrace first our humanity, then to embrace her son who transforms us in ways at which our poor language can only hint: we are free[d] from our sins2 to grow steadfast in faith, joyful in hope and untiring in love.3 In those ways you and I become marvelous deeds inviting others to embrace the one who is always embracing us and all people.
- Spiritual Exercises, 102.
- Prayers Over the Gifts and After Communion from the Mass of the Immaculate Conception.
- Solemn Blessing During Advent. Solemn Blessings may be used to close liturgical celebrations. They vary according to the liturgical seasons of the year.