Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception: Mary's Immaculate Conception is the Beginning of the Promise of Our Immaculate "Re-conception"

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemn Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The "Immaculate Conception" refers to Mary's entire person being conceived without the effects of original sin. The belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception is one that has very ancient roots and was fairly widespread before being declared a dogma. It became an official doctrine of the Church on December 8th, 1854.

One of the "dangers" of the doctrine, if not properly understood and appreciated, is that it can very easily highlight the difference between Mary and ourselves in the "economy of salvation" (i.e., God's saving plan and it's manifestation in history). If this misunderstanding is taken to an extreme, it can even make Mary seem "extraterrestrial" and almost detached from what it means to be truly human and enmeshed in human affairs. To the contrary, an accurate understanding of the doctrine can make Mary more accessible to us and more relevant to our daily lives of faith.

To begin with, it's very important to start with an adequate understanding of what original sin entails. Some refer to "original sin" as a "stain", suggesting that it has to do with impurity of some kind. Were that it was this easy! If original sin was really a "stain", and if it really had to do with impurity, humans would have figured out a way of "cleaning it off" a long time ago! Referring to "original sin" as a "stain" is highly figurative and symbolic and should not drive Christians to think that the remedy for original sin is to simply remain "pure". Original sin is far more complex and deeply etched into human existence than being a mere "stain" that can be "dabbed out" with a touch of "Clorox Anti-Original Sin" stain treatment! Original sin really isn't about purity so much as it is about integrity. Original sin is a fundamental and basic inclination on the part of the human person to turn away from God and to say "no" in the face of God's call to communion. It is a way of asserting one's self over and against God and others. It is, in essence, reducing the whole of existence to own's little universe and agenda.

In being immaculately conceived in the womb of her Mother, Ann, Mary more or less received an "advance payment" on the grace of Christ and was preserved from the original sin of dis-integrity, or the "disintegration" of her capacity to fully assent to God's call for her life. This is alluded to in today's Gospel from Luke, when, after receiving the Angel's invitation to conceive Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responds with the simple, straightforward response of, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word."

Mary's Immaculate Conception, as an "advance installment" of the grace of Christ, prefigures precisely the grace and call that is extended to us. By virtue of an ongoing commitment to saying "yes" to new life in Christ, we are undergoing a radical "Immaculate Re-Conception" of our lives in order to ultimately say, along with Mary, "we are servants of the Lord, may it be done unto us according to your word." Mary's Immaculate Conception is the beginning of the promise of our "Immaculate Re-Conception" in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit! Pat, TOR