Tonight we celebrate Mary conceived without sin in the womb of St. Anne. She was, in deed the fruit of the sexual union of St. Joachim and St. Anne, yet she was conceived i.e. with no sin, not subject to the lower desires of nature [concupiscence] that weigh us down. There were no obstacles to God’s Grace. So we say she was she was “full of grace” i.e. fully activity and aware of God’s presence and activity in herself and in her activity and she freely cooperated with it.
She lived in the presence of God doing her daily, domestic duties as wife and mother, keeping house, raising a child. She was not exempt from duties or chores. [Carryl Houselander writes of this in The Reed of God.]She was formed to notice God and welcome God’s presence in the home by her parents, Joachim and Anne.Remember, God’s grace works through nature. [Refer to statue.]
You and I were not so graced at birth. We were not conceived free of sin; of weaknesses,vulnerabilities, mistakes, misunderstandings and confusions of life that drag us down, BUT were given supernatural boosts we need through baptism. Still we struggle in a world that increasingly does not seem to know God. Yet God is there and Mary is there to champion our cause “praying for us sinners now and at the hour of our death,” even as we distract ourselves in frantic activity- especially in pre-Christmas rush. [Houselander, 101, Essential Writing]
Today’s Solemnity gives us hopefulness. As we remember Mary’s ‘gracefulness,’ we revive our hope of growing in grace, of growing in a sense of God’s presence and activity in us, a mindfulness if you will. This is possible for all of us through sacraments: by natural means of taking time for silence and reflection; again,mindfulness; and by the prayers of Mary, who is deeply concerned for our welfare. (Read excerpt from article below)
As we“stumble through this existence”, Mary accompanies us in “our attempt” to live and love wisely in God’s Presence.
(Mary Vineyard, Preparing the Word)
The perfection of love
by Mary Vineyard
Occasion: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Readings: Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12;Luke 1:26-38
/ READ AN OBITUARY a woman had written for herself before she died of cystic fibrosis at 44 years old. Her words were ones of gratitude for a full and meaningful life, satisfying work, long, loving friendships. I’m sure she had suffered great pain during her lifetime, and she, like all of us, had had some very bad days. But in the end, bitterness had no place in her final act of self-expression. She declared that relationships were ultimately the most important thing, and she encouraged those reading her last message to “go out and create moments to take your breath away.”
I READ AN OBITUARY a woman had written for herself before she died of cystic fibrosis at 44 years old. Her words were ones of gratitude for a full and meaningful life, satisfying work, long, loving friendships. I’m sure she had suffered great pain during her lifetime, and she, like all of us, had had some very bad days. But in the end,bitterness had no place in her final act of self-expression. She declared that relationships were ultimately the most important thing, and she encouraged those reading her last message to “go out and create moments to take your breath away.”
This is an example of how a life can have coherence, how the pure essence of a person’s being can unfold and blossom overtime, how what is present from the beginning can manifest itself and bear fruit.I imagine this woman as someone who lived wholeheartedly, who, in spite of tremendous challenges, said yes to her own unique and unrepeatable life.
The Immaculate Conception is an attempt to say the same thing about Mary. Her life was held together and carried forward by her complete assent to the task she was given. By God’s grace she was freed and empowered, from the first moment of her existence, to be utterly open to love.
SOME PEOPLE may feel confused or even repelled by the adjective immaculate, as if Mary’s purity or spotlessness are comparative terms, by which the rest of humanity is found unworthy or befouled. This is a sad misunderstanding that Mary herself would not support. The peasant girl of the Magnificat was clearly never interested in setting herself above or against other people, and she obviously did not consider bodily existence demeaning or contaminating. She lived the life she was given, with integrity and presence, doing the ordinary work of running a household, raising a child, caring for and enjoying family and neighbors. As a transparent vessel of the perfect love of God, she functioned not apart from but within the rhythms and limits of normal human existence.
Neither is the church’s declaration of Mary’s immaculateness meant to be a derision of human sexuality, though many have misunderstood it as such. There is an unfortunate tendency to think that original sin is caused by the simple fact of having a body, and more specifically that it is transmitted through the act of procreation. Because of the depth and pervasiveness of this mis-perception, vast numbers of individuals have spent their lives at war with themselves, struggling and ashamed or at least ambivalent about their bodies. Even healthy, balanced, and wise people sometimes have an unconscious bias toward the spirit, inadvertently drawing on along cultural habit of equating earthly existence with sin and evil, while holiness is thought to require a rejection of the flesh.
But this is not the truth that Mary lived, and it certainly is not consistent with the astonishing mystery of the Incarnation. Neither Jesus nor Mary shuddered at the thought of being human, even though God knows it is a hard task indeed. Life on earth is difficult in an infinite variety of ways. We are weak and vulnerable and easily confused. We disappoint ourselves and are subject to the betrayals, mistakes, and harmful actions of others. We suffer pain and the deep spiritual consequences of our individual and collective sinfulness. Life is very messy. Yet Jesus chose to enter human existence fully, and he did so through the body of woman. In doing so, he affirmed the blessedness of life, the goodness of the body, not just in general but in particular. Every life, every body has infinite value, belongs to God, is tenderly loved by God.
Mary’s Immaculate Conception is simply an extension of the Incarnation. She was preserved in perfection by and for the sake of her Son. And just as his Incarnation was for our sake, so her purity is for us as well. She endures as archetype, model, and living, loving guide for us as we stumble through this existence, which often does indeed seem to be a vale of tears. In darkness we long for light; in woundedness we yearn for healing. And in the ordinary, everyday choices we make,in our attempts to live and love responsibly and wisely, she accompanies us. From her we can learn how to keep taking the next necessary step, how to keep saying yes to the unique requirements of this particular life, how to live with integrity and coherence, how to reach for the only perfection that matters: the perfection of love.
Mary Vineyard is an author living in Maine.