Tag Archives: Immaculate Conception

Mary and Adam, grace and sin

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.

the-annunciation-3-large

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.

the-annunciation

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.

 

Mary Immaculate

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

The feast refers to a teaching of the Catholic Church that Mary was conceived without original sin, through the working of the redemption of the human race by Jesus.

The teaching does not deny the saving power of the death and resurrection of Christ but recognizes that God’s grace is not limited by time (or place).

Mary was conceived sinless – and, by being in the presence of God all her life – remained sinless. It was God’s doing, not hers.

On this day, we who are beset by sin – not only original sin, but our own sins – might remember God’s loving grace and ask for forgiveness so that we might share in the joy of the Lord and live in his gracious love.

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This feast is special for Franciscans since they have been advocates of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, especially Blessed John Duns Scotus. Though many theologians (including Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventure) opposed it, we can find its roots even in St. Efrem the Syrian (306-373) who wrote in one of his hymns: “No blemish in you, my Lord, and no stain in Your Mother.”

Below is a photo of a large mural int he Vatican Museum of the proclamation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I have no idea who all these people are – though I can identify Franciscans, Carmelites, and Dominicans.

Mural, Vatican Museum

Mural, Vatican Museum

“Where are you?”

This morning while praying the lectionary readings I was struck by a question in the first reading, Genesis 1: 9-20: “Where are you?”

Adam is hiding. He is not out in the open. He’s ashamed of his nakedness, his vulnerability. He has not listened to and followed the word of the Lord.

Where am I?

When I read the Gospel, Luke 1: 26-38, the story of the Annunciation, I was struck by Mary’s final response to the angel. “I am the servant of the Lord” is the most common translation. But I remembered  a different translation, used in the Angelus: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” – obviously a direct translation from the Latin: “Ecce ancilla Domini.”

I searched several translations in English, Spanish, and French. Only the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) provided what I think might be the best rendition: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”

I also checked Gustavo Gutierrez’s commentary on the feast. Lo and behold, he quotes Mary: “He aquí la sierva del Señor.” – “Behold here the servant of the Lord.”

I checked the Greek – Ιδoυ  η  δoυλη κυριoυ – and I think the NRSV and Gutierrez have it right.

And if that is so, Mary is actually answering the question that God asks Adam in the Garden.

She is there – the servant of the Lord, open to God’s will, vulnerable.

Where am I?

Am I hiding myself before God, trying to hide my vulnerability that God is all too aware of? Am I hiding from myself, from my faults and sinfulness? Am I hiding from the  simple greatness to which God is calling me – to be a bearer of God to the world?

As the medieval Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart once wrote, “What good is it if Mary gave birth to the son of God centuries ago, if I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and culture?”

“Where are you?” God continues to ask us.

Mary’s “Yes”

“Be it done to me according to your word.”
Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.
Luke 1: 38

Today the Church celebrates the conception of Mary without original sin. Not on her own, but because of the salvation brought to us by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Mary is conceived sinless.

But the Gospel tells of the conception of Jesus – as Mary consents to be the Mother of God the Most High. Loved and graced by God, she responds in love – and faith.

In one of his Christmas meditations from a Nazi prison in 1944, Father Alfred Delp, S.J., wrote of Mary:

“The fact that this night of nights [Christmas] brought forth the Light, that Mary kneels before the child, that motherhood and the grace of compassion have become a law of our life, that the ice of humanity’s inner solitude can be broken and melted by healing warmth — all this became possible only because the maid Mary yielded of her own free choice to the inner prompting of God’s voice. Her secret is self-surrender and willing acceptance, offering herself to the point of complete obliteration of her personal will.

“This is both her message and her judgment of us. As a generation we are completely concerned about our self-fulfillment, our self-realization, our living conditions and so on. Everything is organized for our self-gratification. And precisely because of this we are getting progressively poorer and more miserable. Mary’s decision was complete surrender to God and it is the only thing that can lead to human fulfillment. Hers is the decisions that obeys the law of life.”

Will we say “yes” to God’s will, as Mary did?