Saturday, December 10, 2011

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

This homily first appeared in Connect! magazine

The Scriptures offer us two women to reflect upon today.

The first woman, Eve, is created by God free from all sin. She enjoyed all the pleasures of paradise, including an intimate friendship with God. She saw him face to face and spoke with him as directly as we speak to each other. Yet with all those blessings, she allowed the serpent to place the suspicion in her heart that God was holding something back from her. Why would God tell her not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? He must be hiding something from her. With all the abundance that nature could provide surrounding her, she became fascinated with what she could not have. She lost trust in the God who created her and disobeyed him. Then she lured her husband, Adam, to do the same.

We know what the tragic consequences were. Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Paradise. The fruits of the earth which had been in Paradise in abundance could now only be harvested by the intense labor of plowing the ground, planting the seeds and waiting for the harvest. We lost our ability to see God and speak to him face to face. It became difficult to know his will and to choose to do good. As a result, every type of evil entered our world - sickness, natural disasters, hatred and death.

To this day we suffer the consequences of Eve's fatal choice. Our first mother's sin left its mark on all of us. Most especially, we carry within ourselves the same disobedience. Despite all the blessings God showers upon us, we still find it difficult to trust him. We still are tempted to believe that our plan is better than God's plan and that our will is superior to his. Consequently, we continue to hurt one another, to poison our environment and to suffer from the despair caused by our separation from God.

Happily the disobedience of Eve is not the end of the story. For another woman comes upon the scene, a woman like Eve whom God created free from all sin. This woman did not have the pleasures of Paradise around her. She did not see God face to face nor did she talk to him directly as Eve did. Yet she awaited the salvation he promised with a lively faith and hope. When the angel Gabriel appears to her, she becomes troubled and confused. She is full of questions. Although she does not fully understand God's plan for her and although it would mean a big change in her own plans, she says "yes" to becoming the mother of the Savior. Unlike Eve who was suspicious of God's plan, Mary entrusted herself fully to him. And, as a result, Jesus our Lord and God was born to us.

Just as Eve's disobedience brought evil into the world, Mary's "yes" ushered in untold blessings. Because Mary offered her body to God, Jesus could take on our human nature, becoming a man like us. It was because of her obedience that Jesus could suffer and die to save us from our sins. It was because of her trust in the Father's plan that Jesus could entrust himself to that same plan, even when it meant a cruel death, and so rise from the dead for our salvation. While we must never forget that it is Jesus alone who saves and sanctifies us, none of it would have been possible without Mary's cooperation. And so we rightly call her not only the mother of Jesus, but the mother of all believers because she was the first to believe in him and the first to offer herself in service to the gospel.

Eve, our first mother, brought despair into our world. Mary, our mother by faith, brought new hope.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception is one of the few times during the year when the Church requires us to gather for Mass on a day other than Sunday. We interrupt our regular schedules because this truth of faith is so important to us as followers of Christ. Mary, as the first disciple of Jesus, is the first to receive the benefits of Jesus' saving work. She is the first to taste the victory over sin by being herself exempted from its stain at her conception. She is the first to celebrate the resurrection of the body through her assumption into heaven.

What she has received is also what God holds in store for us. Like Mary, he wants to restore us to the sinless, pure creatures he intended us to be. We, like Mary, will one day know victory over sin when all the scars of sinfulness will be healed. Like Mary, we will know God's victory over death when our bodies are raised on the last day. Saint Paul tells us as much in today's second reading from the letter to the Ephesians: God has chosen us in Christ from the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before him. For our part, we must strive everyday with God's grace to make our lives mirror the goodness he has restored in us through faith.

God chose Mary from the beginning of time to be the mother of Jesus. From the moment of her conception, he purified her from the stain which Eve's disobedience left on all our souls. In that way, her body would be a worthy temple for the Son of God. Though we have not been given the tremendous gifts of grace which God showered upon Mary, we can still hold on to the hope she offers us. God has chosen each of us from the beginning of time to provide a service for him that no one else can offer. From the moment of our conception, he gave us all we could ever need to fulfill his plan for our lives. Like Mary, all we need do is entrust ourselves to him with complete faith and confidence. Then the strength to do his will and the grace to follow his plan will be ours in abundance. And we can be sure that our mother, Mary, will be praying for us every step of the way as she points us to her Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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