The Feast of the Immaculate Conception
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
The Gift of Mary’s Immaculate Conception
Our opening prayer on this feast of the Immaculate Conception says that Mary is the graced one, blessed among women, because of her role in salvation. This gift to Mary enables her to serve God.
Passionist artist, Bro. Michael Moran, did a pen and ink drawing of the temptation in the garden, our first reading. Adam and Eve stand together beneath an overhanging branch, not far from the head of a large snake. Eve holds a fine apple in her hand. But through the branches we can just catch Adam’s elbow pushing her arm and moving that apple closer to her lips! An artist’s interpretation of the most familiar of stories saying that Adam cannot place the blame entirely on Eve!
In our Old Testament reading today there is another unusual interpretation that may be pertinent. The first verse that we hear is Gods’ words to Adam and Eve when God enters the garden. "Where are you?" Someone has suggested that God is not thinking geography, but rather asks the pair, ‘how do you feel now? Are you where you should be in our relationship? Are you where we should be together?’
The work of Jesus is to lead us back to the garden, to walk together there again. Our intimacy with Jesus is the way to intimacy with the Father. Mary shares the work of salvation, she is the new Eve. The mystery of sin that has tainted the sons and daughters of Eve make it impossible for us to choose well. But God’s gift to Mary, conceived immaculately, places her in the position that when she will be called to make a great decision, she will be able do that more like Eve than any other of Eve’s daughters before her.
It is not a given that the request carried on the lips of Gabriel will be a ‘yes’. St. Bernard reflects on this as he describes the Annunciation. Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid after his initial greeting, and he tells her the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and her son will be child of God, a savior. Then Bernard stops time! He reads for us Gabriel’s thoughts. The angel is frightened that Mary will say no, and God will have to start the long process of preparing for a savior over again. With Gabriel all the angels of heaven, Adam, Eve and all creation hold their breath awaiting the word of Mary. They pray, ‘Please say yes and save us!’ And Mary said, ‘Let it be done to me according to you will’.
Mary’s Immaculate Conception leads her to share the work of Jesus uniquely. But what she shares is not so unique: an unplanned pregnancy, Jesus’ birth in poverty, homelessness and fleeing her native land, a son ridiculed and rejected, and then his violent death in her presence. So many people know these sufferings. Mary as our mother given to us from the Cross by Jesus, shares our suffering as did her son. And she shares with us also the victory of her son.
Let us be one with Mary in her love and praise of God today for the gift that God gave her to share in the work of Redemption and to undo the bond of sin from all of her children.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.