December 8: Immaculate Conception
Today, we celebrate Our Lady's Immaculate Conception. Mary was conceived free from original sin. She was never estranged from God, and never under the influence of the sinful disorder that we all inherited.
God made an exception of Mary in view of her part in God's plan, because she would be given the choice of being the mother of God's Son. From the first moment of her existence when her parents conceived her, she was free from the condition of alienation from God, and from that accumulation of sinfulness which we have inherited from our parents, since the beginning.
This was a remarkable privilege that God bestowed on the future mother of his Son, which still left her free to accept that motherhood. There is a danger that we may overstress this exceptional aspect of Mary. We may excuse ourselves from imitating her, and we may fail to appreciate our own privileged place in God's plan.
God invited a particular woman to be the model of a life of faith, and his Son's mother and Mother of the Church. A model is meant to be copied. A mother is supposed to be imitated by her children.
We may object that if this extraordinary person had the unique privilege of being conceived immaculate, how can we wayward individuals copy her? Let's think for a moment how being conceived immaculate compares with our privileges as Christians.
God chose Mary to share in his life and love in a special way from the first instant of her human life. God chose each of us to share in his life and love in a special way when we were baptized. Most of us were baptized very soon after we were born.
Mary never suffered the condition of estrangement from God. We no longer suffer that condition, not since our baptism, unless we deliberately choose to reject God. Even then, God offers us reconciliation.
Did Mary have other privileges resulting from her freedom from original sin? Was she spared from death? The strongest tradition says that she died a natural death. Was she spared from suffering? Certainly not. The gospels are clear about that.
Sin holds a powerful fascination for us, and we show pitiful moral weakness in our lack of self-control. But Mary was free from the strong tendency to sin that plagues us. She did not inherit the moral weakness of her forefathers.
But so were our first parents free from any inherited moral weakness, but that didn't stop them from falling out with God through pride. Also, the angels had freedom of choice to follow God's plan or their own, and many chose to reject God.
Mary still had to cope with her freewill. If we do not believe that, then we make Mary out to be a goddess, or a robot. Mary could have chosen not to serve God. She was more capable of that sin than we are with our weakened freewill.
Mary was privileged, but so are we. Her privileges suited her for the part she was invited to play in God's plan, and so do ours.
At Baptism, we are invited to share God's life and love. We are incorporated into his plan for Jesus Christ and the Church, as Mary was at her Immaculate Conception.
At Confirmation, the Holy Spirit gives us added strength for our tasks in the Church and in the world, as he did to Mary at the Annunciation and at Pentecost.
We, too, conceive the Son of God in our persons when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion and we foster his growth by our loving service of others.
God knows how many other privileges he has granted to each of us, or wishes to bestow on us for carrying out his plan. We should recognize the great things God has done to us, and express our thanks to Blessed Trinity.
Mary shows us how to be in tune with God's plan working itself out in us. She says: “Let it be done to me, Lord, according to your word.” This is the way to use our privileges: “Lord, you have your plan for me. Do what you like with me.”