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The Immaculate Conception

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Canonry of St. Leopold - published on 12/06/14

Protected from sin but not forced to be sinless, Mary saved us all when she said "no" to sin and "yes" to God's plan.

Adam and Eve ruined everything! What a mess they made of the whole thing—not just the embarrassment of their being caught naked (or better yet, their having made being naked a bad thing!) and getting thrown out of the Garden, but the whole Curse they called down upon themselves and all of us, their children and children’s children: suffering, sweaty labor, and every other evil you can or cannot think up, oh, and death, too. Great job, Mom and Dad! Thanks a lot.

It’s no good blaming God for this—He was the one trying to protect them, but they didn’t listen, and we paid the price. (How often do others pay a price when I don’t listen?) God did not curse them; they cursed themselves. He’s not the bad guy in this story.

It’s no good blaming the Devil, although, of course, he is wicked. But he didn’t force our first parents to sin. And they had, in God’s promise, all they needed to stay out of trouble. Blaming the devil might make us feel good, but—as with everything to do with the devil except ignoring him – it winds up being a mistake, if not also a sin.

And it’s not much good blaming Adam and Eve, although they are truly guilty, both of them, although in different ways: Eve for being foolishly proud and even talking to the Devil, thinking she’s going to be able to come out on top in this encounter, and also for not having remembered what God really had told her, and Adam – whose sin is the first and greatest – not only for letting himself be led astray by Eve’s mistake but more significantly for having been a coward and not having been there to protect her (and the Garden, which was his priestly and kingly duty) and fight off the Devil, who was no little garden snake, but a great monster.

It’s not much use blaming them, since – let’s be honest – we would have done the same! Perhaps the details of the story would have differed a bit, but, in the end, we would have messed everything up too. I’m sure I would have. (And even the pride in saying that ensures its veracity!) And to those who would like to think that they wouldn’t have messed up, might I snarkily suggest that the very pride which would allow them to think that they would not have fallen in the Fall is the proof that they would have?

But I have an even better reason to be certain – a real proof, that you and I would have botched everything if we had been our first parents. And that is this: You and I are were not chosen to be the Mother of God; you and I are not the Immaculate Conception.

But let’s go back to the Garden for a moment. After the Fall, the shattering of God’s grand plan for us and for the whole of creation, even in that very moment that He is explaining the deep pit into which Adam and Eve have hurled themselves and us, He is working out a plan to lift us out of that same pit. A daring plan. A plan whose subtlety and boldness surpass human imagination.

He could simply have snapped His divine finger, so to speak, and wiped out our mistake, our transgression, and made it all new again. But there are at least two problems with that solution. The first is that there would be nothing to keep us from doing it again! And again, and again. That might try even divine patience, and it would not really be much fun for us either. The second, and more telling reason why God did not just simply blink it all away, is that it would be a monumental act of disrespect towards us! Since He had given us a tremendous if terrible gift in creating us to be free – thereby making us in His image – no matter how poorly we used that freedom, He would never undo it. So to respect us, He had to respect the consequences of our actions.

So his daring plan was to let one of us, who bore the weight of the guilt of our own crime, be the one to save us. Rash, indeed. Because no one of us, suffering under that weight, could do so. His solution—so clear now, but then, unimaginable – was to become one of us Himself! Having lived with two thousand years of the Incarnation (which has never stopped—He is still one of us!), we can begin, perhaps, to comprehend this mystery; but before He came, no one could imagine it.

But even taking this step presented a challenge. How to become one of us? To share truly in who we are, and to respect our freedom, He needed someone on the inside, so to speak, to let Him in. Someone worthy of bearing God, of bringing Him into this world and into humanity.

Of course, since we were all in the pit of sin and death, of faithlessness and weakness (because of our parents’ and our own choices, let us never forget), there was no one able to do that, no one who was pure and free enough to be the portal, the bearer, the ark of this New Covenant. Since the stain of the Original Sin was passed to all the children of Adam and Eve, who could do this?

So God did something which for us is mostly inconceivable: He looked through all time, backwards and forwards, to find a person who—if for one moment made free from this burden of Original Sin – would be willing to stay free from sin so that Christ could come in. He looked, therefore, for the best of us, the greatest of the children of Eve, the one who—if helped with this one grace, this freedom from Original Sin – would be willing to stay free! And He found her.

He found Mary. Now, as a child of Adam and Eve, that is, as our sister, she too needed to be saved. So the Lord God did something else which stretches our understanding. He took the grace and salvation which would come from His plan to enter into the world, become a man, suffer, die and rise, and he gave the grace to Mary before He actually did it.

This is not a time-travelling episode in a science fiction series (although maybe we are fascinated with time travel because of the Immaculate Conception!) but rather what the theologians call prevenient grace, the grace which worked before (in time!) its source had appeared!

So, God lifted up Mary with this grace—to be, as it were, as if it had been she, Mary, in the Garden, without the burden of Original Sin. And so, she is the Immaculate Conception – conceived in the womb of her mother without the stain of Original Sin.

This means that, while she was conceived and born without Original Sin, she was still free to sin (if freedom to sin can indeed be called freedom?) and, far more importantly, free not to sin (which is the true freedom). Protected but not forced to be sinless, Mary was then presented the Great Question: Will you be the Mother of My Son? Will you let Me be born in You? And she—unlike Adam and Eve, who said "No" (although it appears to be to a different question, the reality is the same) – said "Yes." And we were saved. The plan worked.

I was not chosen. You were not chosen. We would not have made the right choice, as Mary always did. The Immaculate Conception is hers alone, and that is why we celebrate, because even if you and I wouldn’t have been able to do it, one of us—our great sister – did!  But she is now also our mother.

And like every loving mother, she shares everything with her children. While the honor and dignity of the Immaculate Conception is hers alone, she still shares it with us, and not only in this feast.  Every time we turn from sin, confess our weakness, and let in the healing power of God’s love, we are made sinless as she always was (both because God started her out with a special help, but also because she chose to remain that way!) We share most beautifully in this honor when we let ourselves—if not be conceived, then be reborn – immaculate, free from sin, by the great gift of Confession and Reconciliation. So that we – in a real way – may be ready to answer the great question—when Christ asks us – May I be born in you? We do this not once and for all humanity, as Mary did, but for ourselves certainly and also for all those whom we might touch in our lives.  

It is no mistake that this feast is in Advent, for this is our time to be transformed from the Children of Eve into the Children of Mary, of those who are being reconceived, if you will, so that we might give birth to Christ this Christmas.

Prepared for Aleteia by theCanonry of Saint Leopold. Clickhere to learn more about the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.

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