Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. By the grace of God, Mary was free from sin from the moment of conception in the womb of Saint Ann. So today we celebrate that original sin had no power over her.
In her commentary in Give Us This Day, Benedictine Sister Jeana Visel, writes:
In short, we are free, but we are supposed to be opposed to evil. The fact that we tend to give in to evil when we ought to choose good is the basic conflict driving the redemption story.
Mary was freed from this tendency to give in to evil.
But, today’s Gospel may confuse some of us, for it speaks of the annunciation of Mary when Jesus was conceived in her womb.
There is an amazing mural by Giotto of the Annunciation in the Dominican convent of San Marcos in Florence. I knew it was there, but walking up to the former dormitory on the second floor, I was astounded as I turned the corner and saw the image at the top of the stairs. Spell-bound, I remained there in awe. Giotto had captured the moment when God became flesh in Mary.
Doing a little internet search this morning I came across a painting of Giotto of the Annunciation which is strikingly similar, but includes Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden.
As I prayed, I recalled the difference between Adam and Eve in the first reading today and the Gospel of the Annunciation.
Adam and Eve hid themselves. Sin hides. When we sin, we separate ourselves from God and so we need the security of being hidden – in the bushes or in darkness.
But Mary is there in the open, almost as if she were waiting for the angel. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Here I am, Lord. I am here to serve you.
But Adam and Eve try to explain away their sin by refusing to take responsibility. Adam blames Eve, who in turn blames the serpent.
Mary takes responsibility. “Be it done to me according to your word.” I am willing to take on this, even though I do not know all the implications.
This is what grace is. Grace frees us from darkness and opens us to the work of God in the light of day. Grace helps us respond in love to God’s call and frees us from blaming others.
Sin moves us into ourselves, but in a self-protective way that moves us to blame others. Grace opens ourselves to become instruments of God’s love, not blaming others but cooperating in God’s work of salvation.
So today we can reflect on the mystery of the immaculate conception of Mary, preserving her from sin. But it is also a time to reflect and thank God for the grace that moves us out of the darkness of sin, out of all attempts to close in on ourselves and opens us to the angels that call us to bring the saving power of the Incarnate God to a world in darkness.