We celebrate the beautiful Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Advent, celebrating God’s grace given to His Chosen Handmaid, the Mother of His Son. It is a time for us to pause and ponder the Lord’s Divine Plan for the salvation of the world and His Divine Plan for each of us. One of the common misunderstandings I’ve experienced has been that many believe we are celebrating Jesus’ immaculate birth here, but of course it is the traditional belief that Our Lady was given the special grace of the removal of Original Sin by God the Father Himself prior to Christian Baptism. In seminary, I read many beautiful theological reflections on this topic by many theologians throughout the history of the Church that gave me a deeper sense of why Our Lady would be given this special gift. I know in many friendly debates there are many among us who think that this is old-school thinking, or thought that “deifies” Mary. There are others whom I’ve spoken with who believe that Mary was guarded and protected against ever sinning. I am no theologian, so you’re getting an ordinary priest’s way of looking at Mary’s immaculate birth here. Mary is someone we can relate to. She was the first and greatest Christian – she followed Jesus Christ before He was even conceived, from her own birth, and for this she received a gift from God that every Christian receives in baptism. It doesn’t deify her, it gives her the same strength of faith we all have been given. And like us, she wasn’t protected from sinning, because she was a real girl in a real world. Of course, God who knows all knew her family and how she would be brought up and her own disposition to things. That’s why He chose her. This was all a part of the Divine Plan! If we stop and take into account, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her birth, her childhood, the Annunciation when she came to bear Our Lord, His birth, the Holy Family, her life on her own and with her Divine Son, His Suffering & Death (and her suffering with Him), His Resurrection (and her rejoicing in the Divine Plan), her own Assumption and Crowning in heaven – we see the panorama of Mary’s life and if we reflect upon our own we should see something here too – our Lord wants us to see it, as does our Lady!
We too have been called from birth, called to share in the waters of baptism, called into Discipleship, enlivened with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Holy Confirmation and called to our vocation in life, the manner in which we attain holiness and heaven ourselves, but also bring as many people with us as we can. We are given many powerful gifts to do that, and while it may not be immaculate conception, we shouldn’t be disappointed. That was for Mary. We have been given Holy Baptism which brought us to the same place. The heavens opened up and the Lord Jesus proclaimed “this is my Beloved Brother/Sister, in whom I am well pleased”. Friends, let us reflect upon our own lives today, our vocation and how we might live that vocation out today and every day, and as we look at the panorama of Mary’s beautiful life which began at the Immaculate Conception, may we be reminded that our Christian journey began at our conception too. May God bless you.