Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepton
Lake Charles Louisiana
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
“[H]chose us in him, before the foundation of the world.” Ephesians 1:4
What do we celebrate today? We answer, “The Immaculate Conception.” In this belief, we, as Catholics, say, “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX, 1854, CCC #491). This is saying a great deal, and there are some who ask, “How can we truly believe this?”
I would answer, and I know the Church would answer as well, that if we read the Sacred Scriptures Mary’s Immaculate Conception becomes apparent. First of all, there is the plan of God. That Mary is conceived without sin speaks to us of God’s plan. The advent of Jesus Christ is not an accident. God has it in His will to redeem from the moment of Adam and Eve’s sin. This is why we read from the Book of Genesis in our first reading. The clue comes in the final verse: “The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). “Mother of all the living” suggests that God has something else in mind. Someone else will receive that title “mother,” and she is Mary. Someone else will be called “woman,” and she is Mary (cf. Gospel of St. John). Eve is the old woman. Mary is the new woman. Eve is the mother of the human race. Mary is the mother of Christ, the new man whose coming brings about a new race that bears His name.
All of this tells us about God’s plan. God must call a people to be His own. Mary must spring from that people.
There is a passage in our second reading that also tells us about God’s plan. It is taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and reads, “[A]s he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6). God, who at once knows all, knew from before the moment He created the world that He would redeem in Jesus Christ. He “chose us in him” so that we could be “holy and without blemish before him” in Jesus Christ. God removes the stain of original sin and calls us to redemption. This is what baptism is all about. It is also what our sacramental life as Catholics is all about. While baptism introduces us to the life of God, the sacraments, as gifts of Jesus Christ himself, sustain us in His grace. It is an enormous mystery that tells us all about God’s plan for us, “… that we might exist for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12).
Our God, who knows no time as we know it, an eternal God, who knew what it was He would do before He revealed it to us, this personal and eternal God, sends an angel to Mary, whom God knew would be the mother of His Son, and this angel says: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The angel Gabriel speaks words that frankly are spoken to no one else in all the Scriptures, except — the chosen people through the prophets. But, then, Mary is to be “Mother,” a new mother, and as she is called in the Gospels, “the mother of Jesus” (cf. Gospel of St. John, the wedding at Cana, and the crucifixion). Since Jesus is the new Adam, that Mary is the new mother should come as no surprise to us. In this sense, as the “new Eve” and the “new mother,” she is mother of us all.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians, speaking of how we are free children in Christ, writes, “[W]hen the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4:4-5). St. Paul then eloquently presents us with the allegory of Christian freedom, the children born into slavery versus the children born into freedom, and concludes with this observation, “Therefore, brothers, we are children not of the slave woman but of the freeborn woman” (Galatians 4:31). We are indeed.
It is this “new Eve,” this “new mother,” that God destined from before the beginning to be the one who would conceive in her womb His Word and bring into the world the realization of His plan of salvation. Through a woman sin entered the world, now through a woman grace. And what a grace it is! It is a powerful grace, a grace to redeem, a grace to make us “exist for the praise of his glory.” “Hail, full of grace!”
How could it be? I would answer, “How could it not, if we believe in God’s plan?”