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.
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 the Canonry of Saint Leopold. Click here to learn more about the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.
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