+HAIL, FULL OF GRACE 8th of December, 2022
On this day in 1854, Pope Pius IX, after much consultation, define that “the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, was, from the first instant of her Conception,…preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”
Eight years before this in 1846, at the 6th Provincial Council of Baltimore, the bishops of the United States petitioned Pope Pius IX to name Our Lady, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States. This request was granted the following year and plans were started to build a “patronal church” in our nation’s capital in honor of the Blessed Mother now known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The beginnings of all this took place in the most humble of surroundings. We just heard from the book of Genesis of how Adam after he had eaten of the forbidden tree hid himself in the garden of Eden. When the Lord asked him where he was, he told the Lord he was afraid because he was naked and hid himself. Sin changes the whole experience of our human consciousness, we become unclothed.
As a result, we lost the consciousness of our true selves, were left feeling naked and hide from God. When Mary, freed of original sin from the moment of her conception, gave birth to God’s only begotten Son, she paved the way that allows us to find once again, what it is to live as God’s very own sons and daughters. Mary reveals what our authentic humanity is really like, full of grace and ever open to all that God may ask of us in our daily lives.
For we have been blessed by God as St Paul tells in our second reading, with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, chosen before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. We are destined in Christ, to exist for the praise of God’s glory. This feast reveals to us what God has planned for each one of our lives each day on earth and for all eternity.
The angel Gabriel greets Mary as our gospel tells us as “full of grace,” reminding her that the Lord is with her. But even she became greatly troubled having never received this kind of greeting. I think that we too are inclined to become troubled when our faith calls us to a life in God’s very own embrace and fruitful service.
This Solemnity has a way of reminding us as theology teaches, that:
“In proclaiming the Immaculate Conception we simultaneously proclaim the immaculate concept of the human person. What Mary is, we should have been, that is, the living embodiment of the uncorrupted concept of man or woman. Today’s dogma is not only about Mary the exception, but also about us, each one of us, the unfortunate rule. The immaculate concept of the human person implies the original unity of creation and grace. And so what in Mary is reality becomes our destiny, meaning that in a very real way she, the Immaculate one, will always be a challenge to our human and religious identity. (Theological Significance of the Immaculate Conception)
Far from distancing us from Mary, the mother of God, this solemnity reminds us of how deeply she is intertwined with each of our lives. This hope or insight is what led St Bernard to reflect so much on how we have been made in the image and likeness of God, even though our consciousness of this has been lost through sin.
Our whole life of prayer, our ascetical practice as monks and the lives of Christians everywhere is to develop this living sense of our true selves as children of God, destined for eternal life with a tender and most compassionate God.
I suspect God is not so interested in beautiful Basilicas like that in Washington DC as in the living and life-giving Shrines of human hearts. What we celebrate today takes place throughout the world as we allow God’s grace to fill our hearts. And isn’t this what unfolds here at this altar as bread and wine, symbols of our lives are overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit and become the very Body and Blood of Christ. With him, our own lives are living already in the God’s eternal embrace. Amen
(Gen 3:9-15,20; Eph 1:3-6,11-12; Lk 1:26-38)