December 8, 2018

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The psalm of today’s liturgy perhaps communicates best the theme of our celebration: Sing to the Lord a new song for he has done wondrous deeds…he has remembered his love and faithfulness. For this feast reveals in a beautiful way the love and faithfulness of God, who created us for Himself and who redeemed us for Himself.

The Bible lays out in famous story the beginning of this process by which God preserved for Himself what the power of evil sought to snatch away. In the beginning, now lost to us in the mists of time, the unfolding of the wondrous plan of creation brought forth the first human beings, that part of creation in the divine image and likeness able to know and to love God the Creator. But evil, ever envious of the happiness of others and ceaselessly deceptive in its relentless desire to destroy all that is good and beautiful, deceived our first parents by lies and false promises. It is the story recounted in our first reading today. It is a familiar story, for it is also our own. How well we are able to identify with that overwhelming desire for things that we know are not what God wants for us, but which nevertheless are so enticing in their attraction. How well we know the emptiness and guilt which inevitably follow when we realize how we have sold our happiness, peace and integrity for nothing. But for God’s fidelity and love, we would have been lost in the futility and hopelessness of our sin.

Our second reading today, from the Letter to the Ephesians, gives us insight into God’s creative love and the reason why, in his love and fidelity, he never let go of us but continued to look upon fallen humankind with mercy and fidelity. The reason is that, from the beginning, God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, and destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ for the praise of His glory. The reading also instructs us that we were chosen…in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will. God, eternal, all-powerful and living communion of love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all-sufficient in Himself and needing nothing outside Himself, created all that exists as a participation in his very being, which is living love. In particular, having created human beings in the divine image and likeness, God cannot but love even sinful man. For the one in whose image we were made has himself instructed us that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us because that is his own nature. God’s love for us is so perfect, so far beyond our comprehension that He allows us to receive the consequences of our choices both good and bad. God’s love for us is so perfect, so far beyond our comprehension that He cannot turn his back on us as we so often turn out back to Him. And so the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, fashions yet another creation, so perfect and exquisite in beauty that the splendor of the first creation pales before it. Because He destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, He once again created a human being in the divine image and likeness, sinless as were the first human beings. Presented with a choice as Eve had been presented with a choice, the Blessed Virgin Mary responds differently: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. In that response, the intention of God’s will is restored as intended in the beginning, and the new creation, more wondrous than the first, now begins. The Son of God, through whom all things were created, now humbles himself to take on our mortal and frail humanity, so that in him, humanity might heal itself, and the fullness of likeness to God might be restored to all who are created in the divine image, and the intention of God’s will, by the free choice of a human being, would be accomplished in a marvelous manner. The full beauty of this new creation has been revealed to us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

It is this boundless mercy and love of God which we celebrate in today’s feast. The words addressed to Mary by the angel, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God, are intended for us and for all who, like her, are disciples of her Son. Mary’s obedience, which brought her more intimately than any other creature into the unfolding of the intention of God’s will, also brought her more intimately than any other creature into the awesome contest between good and evil which, from the beginning of humankind, has sought to destroy the plan o of God’s love; a contest so awful that it took the Son of God all the way to death on a cross. Mary was obedient even to the foot of the cross. How many times did she have to return to the memory of those words, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. How often did she have to cling to the promise: For nothing will be impossible for God. For we all know from our own sad experience how deceptive evil is. It promises power and enjoyment but leaves us empty and ashamed. It can deceive by a show of power, but it cannot endure. Indeed, it was paradoxically in the very moment of its ultimate defeat, in the death of the Son of God on the cross, that evil appeared for a moment to have prevailed. But we know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.

So let us take heart in this feast of the love and mercy of God. With Mary, let us not be afraid even when, in accord with the teaching of her Son, we will have to take up our own cross to follow him. Let us, with her, be mindful of the angel’s promise: For nothing will be impossible for God. Most of all, let us renew our faith in the new creation, of which she is the dawn. As she was preserved from sin by the power of Christ, so too can we be freed from our sin. As she lives forever now in the joy of heaven, so too are we called to that eternal life where all the good we have known in this life is preserved incorruptible forever, and evil will no longer have a name.

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