3 December 2017

Juan Antonio Frias y Escalante’s “Immaculate Conception”. Source: wga.hu.

    “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).

     This week, we celebrate the great solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (8 December). This is a holy day of obligation because our nation is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception. Accordingly, our Masses will be on Friday at 8:30 am and 6:30 pm. 

     This feast is appropriately situated within the season of Advent. As we recall, the four weeks of Advent are actually like a mini-Lenten season. As such, the color violet signifies the sorrow that we experience even in the midst of our anticipated joy at Christmas. The season of Advent is a time when we recall why the Son of God willingly came down from heaven and took on our human nature without losing anything of His divinity. He did this to save us from our sins. He did not come as a philosophical guru, an elevated psychoanalyst, or a cult leader hoping to gain a popular following. Jesus Christ came as our Savior. The world today is in just as much of a need of Him to be our Savior as it was two millennia ago. Even though the contemporary world by-and-large tries to explain away sin at an exasperating level, a person’s human nature cannot betray him for very long. A large part of the disorientation of society today is due to people trying to convince themselves and others that there is no such thing as sin and explain it away as a mistake, a simple error, or a personality flaw without any lasting ramifications.

     However, the first sin of our parents has, indeed, imprinted lasting ramifications in this world and in our wounded human nature. Nevertheless, instead of leaving mankind in its state of confusion, blindness, and sin, God Himself would come to our rescue, as it were, and give us a gift that even Adam and Eve did not possess. We now can identify with God in a way never before imagined prior to the Son of God’s Incarnation: no one ever thought that God, who is all-holy, all-perfect, and all-transcendent would ever become man Himself. Yet, it is precisely because God is all-powerful that He is not limited by His own divine nature to take on our human nature. He came down from heaven for a particular mission. His mission of salvation for us has made all the difference in our life beginning at Baptism when we were adopted into the very divine life of God. The Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Himself, came down from heaven to raise us up to His divinity by adoption.

     However, the gift of God does not end at Baptism. As Catholics, we know that every Holy Communion unites us with the living, true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. He is able to give us His Flesh to eat and His Blood to drink because He took on our human nature. Holy Communion would be impossible otherwise. Jesus’ resurrected, glorified Flesh is freely offered to us every Sunday to change us more and more into the One whom we receive in a state of grace. Jesus’ Flesh and Blood were offered as part of His perfect human nature to God the Father to atone for us who, because of our sins, placed an impossible barrier between us and our Creator. However, Jesus is our Redeemer who is the true bridge-builder, as it were, the pontifex maximus, between mankind in this world and God the Father. He accepts His Son’s offering as the greatest, most pleasing sacrifice offered to Him. This offering is so pleasing, in fact, that the Holy Spirit makes it possible to re-present the one sacrifice of the Cross on Calvary on Good Friday everyday on our altars through the hands, words, and intentions of the priests.

     Who is responsible for the eternal Son of God taking on a perfect human nature to redeem us? The Blessed Virgin Mary is the one who we hail along with St. Gabriel as “full of grace.” Our Lady was conceived in the womb of St. Anne with no original sin; no stain of selfishness from Adam touched her person in any form neither at conception nor at any time throughout her life. This is why the Blessed Mother is “full of grace” and why Gabriel venerates her at the announcement of Jesus’ Incarnation. Mary is so united to God’s will that she so identifies her very person as the Immaculate Conception herself when she appeared at Lourdes in 1858 (four years after Pope Pius IX solemnly declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception for the universal Church). She was the pure vessel, the holy temple who would house and contain the Son of God in her womb. Consequently, no disobedience against God could touch her because Jesus took His perfect human nature from Mary’s. 

     We owe a tremendous debt to Mary herself, therefore. Her Immaculate Conception was given by the Father as a singular privilege to her as part of Mary’s service to God and to the larger Church. The Blessed Virgin’s connection to her Son is so intimate that she even shares in a unique way with His sacrifice so that Mary is also venerated as the co-redemptrix. Because she is God’s most perfect creation, Mary was able to offer her sacrifices in her own life (and there were many) in a manner most pleasing to God the Father which is unique to her. Consequently, we are most honored to have the Blessed Mother as our own spiritual Mother because Jesus gave her to us while He was offering all that He had on the Cross. Mary was likewise offering her pain and sorrow and uniting these with her Son for a greater purpose. 

     The Blessed Virgin always has us in mind as that greater purpose. Every apparition of Mary throughout the centuries points us always to her Son. Mary, in a way like no other, can turn us back to Jesus and keep us united with her Son in a manner that only a mother can do. Her mission in heaven now is to help us to be connected with Jesus in this life and to enjoy eternity with Him and all the heavenly court one day. With God, the sorrow of sin turns into the joy of true conversion and a new beginning with Mary always pointing out the Way, the Truth, and the Life: her Son, Jesus Christ. May we celebrate the bright dawn of our salvation with this great solemnity when see how God’s plan, in the fullness of time, was beginning to unfold immediately in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

     May you have a most blessed and holy week!

     Fr. Shawn William Cutler

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