Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception
A Homily Cycle A - 2004-2005

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First Reading - Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Second Reading - Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Gospel - Luke 1:26-38

Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one!  The Lord is with you."  But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"  And the angel said to her in reply, "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God."  Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word."  Then the angel departed from her.

December 6, 2004 is the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX, in 1854.  By this action, the Pope affirmed that the Immaculate Conception is a truth revealed by God to the Church.  It means that by God's grace, Mary was preserved free from original sin from the first moment of her existence.  In this way, God prepared her to be the mother of His Son and our Savior.

This past week, I had my 7th graders take turns presenting this dogma to their classmates as part of their oral quiz.  This is what they had to say:  First, December 8 is the Immaculate Conception - September 8 is the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  March 25th is the Annunciation or the Conception of Jesus and December 25th is His birthday.  We are not celebrating the Immaculate Conception of Jesus today by the power of the Holy Spirit; we are celebrating the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the womb or her own mother, St. Anne.  If Jesus had been conceived on December 8th and born on the 25th, that would be the fastest gestation period ever.  That is not the case - we are celebrating Mary's conception.

Second, Mary had to be conceived without sin because if she was to give Jesus Christ his perfect humanity, then she herself would need to not have original sin lest she pass it on to Jesus Christ.  Jesus had to have perfect humanity so that this humanity, having been joined into his divinity, could set him up to be the perfect sacrifice on the Cross at Calvary.  For centuries, the Jews had been offering sacrifices in the Temple to make restitution to God for their sins.  These offerings, while well-intended, were imperfect because not only were the victims (animal or crops) imperfect, the person offering the sacrifice was imperfect.  In Jesus, we now had the perfect sacrifice and the perfect priest - the one offering sacrifice.  That is why we call Jesus the perfect priest and victim.  In Christ, both the offering and the one offering sacrifice are perfect.  This is the sacrifice that would not only make restitution for our sins; it would also open the gates of heaven, which had remained closed since Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden.  This is precisely why Mary had to be conceived without sin - to provide Jesus with perfect humanity, free of original sin. 

So, the Immaculate Conception, while it is a Marian dogma, is really a dogma about Jesus because the Immaculate Conception only happened so that Jesus would have perfect humanity.  In fact, it is safe to say that without Jesus, we wouldn't have even known about Mary.  Her fame rests on being tied to Her Son's mission of redemption.  In Mary, God intervened in a special way to stop the repeated cycle of the passing of original sin from one generation to the next so that Christ could take perfect humanity from that most perfect human vessel - Mary.  Thus, Jesus is the new Adam and Mary is the new Eve, in the order of grace.  Together, they usher in a new era of hope and life, not seen on earth since Adam and Eve.

Because she was conceived without original sin, Mary was also spared of its effects.  Fr. Francis Fernandez writes: Our Lady's preservation from all stain of original sin is an absolutely unique privilege.  Every aspect of her being shone with the splendor of that harmony with which God had originally wanted to endow all humanity.  She was free from all actual sin and from even the slightest moral imperfection.  She had no need to struggle against disordered passions, nor did she suffer interior temptations.  Exempt from the consequences of concupiscience (disordered desires), she felt no attraction towards sin or to any of the allurements of the devil.

Thus, Mary remained free from sin throughout her life.  She always chose to be faithful to God's will, even in the most difficult times.  On the other hand, we come into this world with original sin, thanks to Adam and Eve.  Therefore, we need God's mercy in order to be brought back into the union He intended us to have with Him from the beginning.  God has shown us this mercy most completely through Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.  Because Mary was to be His mother, God granted her a share in the grace of Jesus' redemptive work even from the first moment of her existence.  Her perfect union with God reveals our call to be God's holy people.

Even our nation's history is inextricably tied to the Immaculate Conception.  French explorers who first came down the Mississippi from Canada called that great river the River of the Immaculate Conception.  Spanish missionaries first named the Chesapeake Bay the Bay of the Immaculate Conception.  As early as 1846, even before the dogma was defined formally in 1854, the bishops of the United States placed our nation under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception.  It is no wonder then, why the most significant shrine in our country dedicated to Mary is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

It is a little known fact that as Pope Pius IX was reading the Papal Bull in the Vatican declaring this dogma on this date in 1854, the bishop selected to hold the book for the Pope during the solemn pronouncement had a special tie to our country.  This bishop was chosen, not because he was a high-ranking prelate but simply because he was the shortest bishop they could find on that day.  Thus, he was the most logical choice to hold the book.  His name was St. John Neumann, bishop of Philadelphia and one of the only saints from this country who ranks among the list of the canonized.

Let us turn to the Immaculate Conception today with the appreciation of the fact that her Immaculate Conception is intrinsic to who she is - it is not a quality of Mary or something forensic or outside of her.  In her very being, she is pure and spotless and immaculate in incarnate form - that is why she tells St. Bernadette at Lourdes in 1858, "I am the Immaculate Conception" - meaning that this title is part of her very being.  Mary so very much desires each of us, her children, to have a place in the kingdom of heaven, where she already reigns as Queen of heaven and earth, assumed there in body and soul.  Let us turn to her with confidence, knowing that she intercedes for us day and night and that she is indeed our life, our sweetness and our hope.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us, who have recourse to thee!

Praised be Jesus Christ.  Now and forever!

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