Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Because I was weak in Marian theology, when I was a student at C.T.U. I decided to do a research paper in Scripture about the Immaculate Conception. I won’t give you all my findings and history, but I want to proclaim the central idea that ran as a thread throughout the paper: God’s original grace is stronger than original sin. God’s grace in us supercedes and helps us overcome the effects of the fall with which we are all so familiar.
I want to describe grace as "God’s initiative." We heard in the second reading that God "chose us before the world began." Notice, it was not when we were baptized or ordained or surrendered to Jesus, no it was before all of that. God had us in mind and chose us before we were born. The emphasis is on his election not our actions or any deeds we have done.
We are celebrating today that God chose a humble handmaiden from all eternity. Her song is ours. The opening prayer asked us to trace her love in our lives. She is the first disciple and shows us how to follow Jesus.
I’ve led pilgrimages to Rome and studied there while on sabbatical. In Rome, I saw many works of art as well as churches. Many churches have mosaics in their apses. For example, there are four major basilicas in Rome: one dedicated to Peter, one to Paul, one to John, and one to Mary. The one dedicated to Mary is the Church of St. Mary Major.
When I visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the glittering mosaic in the apse of the church struck me. It shows Christ the King and on his right hand sits Mary, his mother. He is putting a crown on her head. It is the coronation of Mary. Another famous artist, Michelangelo, painted The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. He shows Christ as judge, raising his right hand in stern judgment. Just to his right is the virgin with her face turned away from the damned since not even she can intercede for them now. My point is that many churches include Mary in a predominant place.
This brings to mind the story of James and John, the sons of thunder, as Jesus named them. They were seeking to sit at Jesus’ right and left when he came into his glory. Jesus replied that it is not his to give but is for those "whom the father has prepared it for beforehand." My personal opinion, like many artists, is that Mary will sit at Jesus’ right for all eternity, and Moses will occupy the place on his left.
In the first reading we heard about the fall of humanity: disobedience, a no, and the curse. Mary has reversed the curse by her obedience and her yes. She was chosen from all eternity. That’s grace. What’s more, she was preserved from sin so she could be a vessel of salvation. God’s grace was once again lavished upon her. She is truly "full of grace." By her yes, she reversed the curse and paved the way for a new humanity.
She was chosen. Ephesians tells us that we too were chosen. One version says that we were "picked" by God. Think of it. You did not just "happen" upon your vocation…you were specially selected for it. God had a design for your life right from the beginning. That’s grace. Whenever we say "Yes" to God’s will and plan for our life, we further the Gospel and salvation in the world. The key is to be faithful where God has placed us, in our day and age, and keep surrendering our fiat to God.
Eucharist is all about celebration and surrender. We gather, like Mary, and celebrate the wonderful love of God at this table. We rejoice that original grace is more powerful than original sin. Because God has chosen and handpicked us from all those in the world, like Mary in the Magnificat, "our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our savior!" With Mary, we offer ourselves to God, as we also do in the Kyrie. We surrender ourselves again, now, united with the forever fixed self-surrender of Jesus on the cross.
Fr. Cedric Pisegna, C.P. is a missionary preacher, author of 13 books and creator of the TV program Live with Passion! airing in many cities. You can learn more about his ministry at: http://www.frcedric.org/