“HAIL, MARY, FULL OF GRACE ... ”
Immaculate Conception of the BVM. Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians, 1:3-6,
11-12; Luke 1:26-38.
Have you ever felt so ashamed of yourself that you wanted to run away and hide? Today’s first reading is about a man who felt that way. After disobeying God’s command,
hides, hoping to avoid a confrontation with the loving Creator and Father
against whom he has rebelled.
When God pursues him and asks, “Where are you?” the man replies: “I was afraid ... so I hid myself.” He thought he would find happiness by ‘doing his own thing.’ Instead he finds only disappointment, frustration, and shame. Is there anyone here who has never had a similar experience? This simple story is no primitive folk tale. It is the story of Everyman – true to our common experience of life. If the story has a moral, it is this. We find happiness, joy, and peace only when we stop trying to run away and hide from God, and begin entrusting ourselves to him in faith.
The Church gives us, in Holy Scripture, a beautiful human model of this trusting faith: Mary, the mother of the Lord. The Catechism says: “By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity.” (No. 967)
Mary did not insist on what she wanted, on doing her own thing. She was content to do God’s thing, even though it involved much suffering and grief. On today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception, we praise God for preparing Mary from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb (which took place through normal human procreation) from that fundamental defect of human nature which the theologians call “original sin.” This defect means that we come into the world imperfect, not as God originally intended us to be. From this defect we are healed by baptism, when God reaches out and claims us for his own. In baptism we are reborn spiritually, becoming God’s children by adoption; and by his free gift, we are graced with the perfect human nature of our savior and redeemer, Jesus Christ.
The Immaculate Conception means that Mary had no need for baptism. As the Catechism says, quoting the words of our second reading: “The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.’” (No. 492)
Today we praise God for bestowing this unique privilege on Mary in order to prepare her beforehand to be the mother of his Son. That gift did not take away Mary’s freedom, however. For her, as for each of us, her acceptance by God – her salvation – was a free gift that required her cooperation with God, the giver of this gift.
As we honor Mary for her words of free assent, “May it be done to me according to your word,” we invoke her prayers that we may make our assent to God; that we too may say our “Yes” to God, as she did.