One-page summary: Homily on Immaculate Conception of BVM L/18
Mary’s prophecy, given in her Magnificat, “Behold all generations will call me blessed,” was fulfilled when the Catholic Church declared four dogmas of Faith about her: 1-The Immaculate Conception, 2-The Perpetual Virginity, 3-The Divine Maternity, 4-The Assumption. The Immaculate Conception is a dogma based mainly on Christian tradition and theological reasoning. It was defined in 1854 by Pope Pius IX as a dogma of Faith through Ineffabilis Deus. Definition: From the first moment of her conception, Mary was preserved immune from original sin by the singular grace of God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race. (CCC #491). This means that original sanctity, innocence and justice were conferred upon her, and that she was exempted from all the evil effects of original sin, excluding sorrow, pain, disease and death which are temporal penalties given to Adam. (Catholic Encyclopedia).
Evidences: (A) From Church tradition: The Immaculate Conception is a dogma originating from sound Christian tradition. Monks in Palestinian monasteries started celebrating the feast of the Conception of Our Lady by the end of the 7th century. The feast spread as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Italy (9th century), England (11th century), and France (12th century). Pope Leo VI propagated the celebration, and Pope Sixtus IV approved it as a Feast. Finally, in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be a dogma of Faith. Mary herself approved it in 1858 by declaring to Bernadette at Lourdes, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” (B) From Holy Scripture: 1) God purified the prophet Jeremiah in the womb of his mother (Jer. 1:5 –“Before I formed you in the womb of your mother I knew you and before you were born, I consecrated you”), and anointed John the Baptist with His Holy Spirit before John’s birth as John’s mother attests. (Lk 1: 43-44 – “And how does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” Hence, it is reasonable that God kept the mother of His Son free from all sins from the first moment of her origin. 2) The angel saluted Mary as “full of grace.” The greeting means that she was never, even for a moment, a slave of sin and the devil. 3) Gen. 3:15: — “I will put enmity between you and the woman and her seed shall crush your head.” The woman stands for Mary, and the promise would not be true if Mary had original sin. (C)-Argument from reason: 1-If we were allowed to select our mother, we would select the most beautiful, healthy and saintly lady. So did God. 2-The All-Holy God cannot be born from a woman who was a slave of the devil, even for a moment in her life. “Deus potuit, decuit, fecit.” (Don Scotus).
Life messages: Every mother wants her children to inherit or acquire all her good qualities. Hence, our Immaculate and holy Heavenly Mother wants us to be holy and pure children. Let us honor her by practicing her virtues of Faith and obedience. Let us respond to God’s grace by using it to do good to others.
DECEMBER 8, 2018: FEAST OF the IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
(Gn 3:9-15, 20; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk 1:26-38)
Anecdote: # 1: The favorite name of explorers: In 1492, Columbus discovered America. He sailed in a ship called Santa Maria de Conceptio (St. Mary of the Conception). He named the first Island he landed San Salvador, in honor of our Savior. Columbus named the second island Conceptio in honor of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The fearless French explorer Fr. Marquette who explored the 2300-mile length of the Mississippi River flowing through ten states, called it River of Mary Immaculate. In fact, all the early American Catholics were so proud of the great truth we celebrate today that the American bishops in 1829 (25 years before the promulgation of the dogma, and the year before the Blessed Mother gave St. Catherine Laboure the design for the Miraculous Medal), chose Mary Conceived Without Sin as the patroness of the United States. Hence, in the U.S., this Holy Day is the feast of the country’s Heavenly patroness.
# 2:”I am the Immaculate Conception.” Four years after the Church formally defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Bernadette Soubirous experienced the first of her apparitions of the Blessed Mother at Lourdes. She was only fourteen years old at the time, and in the French society of that day, the reality that her family was very poor meant that she had no social standing. So when she tried to explain that she was having visions of a beautiful Lady in what we know today as the Grotto at Lourdes, no one believed her. At first not even her parish priest gave any credence to what she was saying. It wasn’t until the Lady that she was seeing identified herself, and Bernadette shared this, that people began to wonder if there were a whole lot more to the story. The Lady in the Grotto did not identify herself simply as Mary. Instead, she identified herself with words that a Pyrenean peasant girl with little theological education at the time would not have known or understood: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
#3: “Hold it, mother?” The Pharisees brought the woman, caught red-handed in adultery, before Jesus for judgment, and Jesus said, “Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone.” They fell silent, and then, all of a sudden, a stone came flying from the crowd. Jesus looked up, surprised and amused, and then said, “Hold it, mother? I was trying to make a point, here.” This is a humorous slant to the Catholic belief that Mary was born Immaculate to lead an immaculate life.
# 4: Bishop Sheen on Immaculate Conception: “Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had the infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideas. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself? Would you not have made her, so far as human beauty goes, the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood? Do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but Who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother?
Introduction: Mary’s prophecy, given in her Magnificat, “Behold all generations will call me blessed,” was fulfilled when the Catholic Church declared four dogmas of Faith about her: 1-Her Immaculate Conception, 2- Her Perpetual Virginity, 3- Her Divine Maternity, and 4- Her Assumption into Heaven after her death. The Immaculate Conception is a dogma based mainly on Christian tradition and theological reasoning. While other human beings were born without grace by inheriting original sin, Mary was conceived full of grace, completely free from original sin. The tradition was defined as Church dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX through Ineffabilis Deus: “From the first moment of her conception, Mary was preserved immune from original sin by the singular grace of God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, savior of the human race.” (CCC #491). This declaration means that original sanctity, innocence and justice were conferred upon her, and that she was exempted from the evil effects of original sin, excluding sorrow, pain, disease and death, the temporal penalties given to Adam (Catholic Encyclopedia). “God freely chose Mary from all eternity to be the Mother of his Son. In order to carry out her mission, she herself was conceived Immaculate. This means that, thanks to the grace of God and in anticipation of the merits of Jesus Christ, Mary was preserved from original sin from the first instant of her conception.” (Compendium of the CCC). The Fathers of the Church from the fourth century believed and taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary had been kept free of all traces of sin by the grace of God because she was to become the Mother of the Lord Jesus. This belief kept company with the other beliefs about Mary: her perpetual virginity, her sinlessness, and her Divine motherhood. Church history makes known to us that, as early as the seventh century, there was a liturgical observance that proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary to be free from sin. In the year 1846, the Bishops of the United States unanimously chose Our Lady as the patroness of the United States under the title of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. This was done eight years before the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was infallibly defined.
Evidences: (A) From Church tradition: The Immaculate Conception is a dogma originating from sound Christian tradition. Monks in Palestinian monasteries started celebrating the “Feast of the Conception of Our Lady” by the end of 7th century. The feast spread as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Italy (9th century), England (11th century), and France (12th century). Pope Leo VI propagated the celebration, and Pope Sixtus IV approved it as a Feast. Finally, in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be a dogma of Faith. Mary herself approved it four years later (1858), by declaring to Bernadette at Lourdes: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
(B) Evidences from Holy Scripture: 1- God purified the prophet Jeremiah in the womb of his mother (Jer 1:5 –“Before I formed you in the womb of your mother I knew you and before you were born, I consecrated you”). God anointed John the Baptist with His Holy Spirit before John’s birth, as John’s mother attests. (Lk 1:44 – “And how does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”). Hence, it is reasonable that God kept the mother of His Son free from all sin from the first moment of her origin.
2- The angel saluted Mary as “full of grace”. This greeting means that she was never, even for a moment, a slave of sin and the devil. In the words of Lumen Gentium (56), Mary was “filled with an entirely unique holiness,”
3- Gn 3:15 — “I will put enmity between you and the woman and her seed shall crush your head.” The woman stands for Mary, and the promise would not be true if Mary had original sin.
(C)-Argument from reason: 1-If we were allowed to select our mother, we would select the most beautiful, healthy and saintly lady. That’s what God did. 2- The All-Holy God cannot be born from a woman who was a slave of the devil, even for a moment in her life. Deus potuit (God could do it), decuit (found fitting to do it), fecit.” (and hence did it). [Duns Scotus]. How was Mary immaculately conceived? Theologians explain it by “prevenient grace,” the grace that, praevenit, comes before. That is, the merits of Christ’s saving life, death and Resurrection were applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary in advance of the actual events in history. Of course, as you know, with God there is no past, present or future. He lives in an eternal now. And so, in virtue of Mary’s future role as “the Mother of the Redeemer,” she was in fact redeemed in advance – in advance only from a human perspective, not from God’s. It is like giving a “preventive medicine.” You and I, and the rest of humanity, inherit original sin and its effects, and we have to submit afterwards to the medicine, which is called Baptism. God did something better for His Son’s Mother – she never had to suffer the deficiency, to begin with. When Cardinal Newman was trying to help Protestants understand who Mary as “the Immaculate One” is, he came up with a very clever title for Mary. He referred to her as “the daughter of Eve un-fallen.” You and I are the sons and daughters of Eve in her fallen state. Mary is the daughter of grace Eve would have been, had she not sinned.
Life messages: 1) We need to be pure and holy like our Heavenly Mother. Every mother wants her children to inherit or acquire all her good qualities. Hence, our Immaculate and holy mother wants us to be holy and pure children. The original sin from which Mary was preserved is the original sin from which we have been freed by Baptism. The grace of Christ that was hers is the same grace of Christ that is ours. Mary is significant for us because the central factors in her life are the central factors in our own. Perhaps the lesson is that, no matter in which direction we may be facing, we need Mary Immaculate in our lives in order to remember Who Christ IS and who we ourselves are.
2) We need to be thankful and humble. Mary’s sinlessness was a gift from God, given to her right from the very moment of her conception. Equally, it is by the grace of God that we have received a new heart, a new spirit and the indwelling Holy Spirit to raise us to the level of holiness that the Blessed Virgin Mary enjoyed during her earthly life. Through Faith in Jesus and through the Sacrament of Baptism, having been born again of water and Spirit, we have been adopted into the Body of Christ in the living Hope of receiving our salvation. Through our living Faith, including the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we restore the righteousness of our souls. Through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we abide in Jesus and Jesus in us, this leading us towards our salvation. [Jn 6:56]. Hence, those of us who happen to be holy, who sin less than the average sinner, should regard their holiness as basically a gift of God and not something they have achieved by themselves. Our lives, then, should be characterized by two basic attitudes, thankfulness to God, and humility before those who are naturally and spiritually less-gifted, or more-gifted, than we are.
3) Like Mary, we need to say “’Yes” to God: God invites each one of us to continue Mary’s “Yes” by welcoming Jesus and making room for him in our lives. Let us ask her to obtain for us the grace to respond as generously to God’s call as she did, and to be as faithful in discipleship to her Son as she was. On this feast day, let us ask our Mother Mary to be with us, to guide us, to protect us through her prayers of intercession with her Son, and to share her privilege with us, making our bodies worthy resting places for her Son. Let us respond to God’s grace as Mary did, by using it to do good for others and to avoid evil. On this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, it is fitting that we remember the words of the intercessory prayer that is inscribed on the Miraculous Medal of Our Lady: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
Additional anecdote: St. Maximilian Kolbe and the Immaculate Conception: St Maximilian Kolbe founded the Militia Immaculata in 1917 with six his fellow- seminarians. “Its goal was nothing less that to bring the whole world to God through Christ under the generalship of Mary Immaculate, and to do so as quickly as possible. Fulfilling this mission through obedience to God’s will, in union with Mary Immaculate, was Kobe’s entire concern, his pure intention — and he sacrificed everything for its accomplishment” [Michael Gaitley MIC, 33 Days to Morning Glory (Stockbridge Massachusetts: Marian Press, 2015), p. 50.] “In Poland, Kolbe … founded the world’s largest Franciscan monastery, which he named Niepokolanow (“City of the Immaculate”), and he continually urged the more than 600 friars there to become soldier saints for God under Mary Immaculate … because among creatures, she alone does the will of God perfectly. Therefore, when our wills are united with hers, they’re necessarily united to God’s will” (Gaitley, p. 57). Then, “in 1941, after decades of incredibly fruitful apostolic labors in Poland and Japan, Kolbe was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Before his arrest, his brother Franciscans had pleaded with him to go into hiding. He said he was grateful for their loving hearts but couldn’t follow their advice. Later, he explained why: ‘I have a mission — the Immaculata has a mission to fulfill.’” In the concentration camp where Kolbe was imprisoned, one of the prisoners managed to escape. In retaliation and as a deterrent to the rest of the prisoners, ten members were chosen at random by the prison authorities and told to step forward for execution. One man chosen wept and pleaded to be spared because he and his wife had small children. Kolbe stepped forward, asked to take this man’s place, and was accepted. The ten were imprisoned in a bunker to starve to death. In that bunker, Kolbe brought comfort to the others, Finally, after two weeks, the captors executed him with a lethal injection — on August 14, 1941, the day before the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, his beloved Immaculata.