Second Sunday of Advent
This week we are delighted to welcome Fr. Peter Rodgers, OP back to St. Dominic’s. As many may remember, St. Dominic’s was Fr Peter’s first assignment after his ordination and now that he is the new president of our Dominic School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, he is here to preach and share the weekend with us. Welcome home Fr Peter!
Also this Tuesday, Pope Francis launches a Holy Year of Jubilee for the whole Church. Moved by the great need for mercy and healing in the world, his Jubilee highlights God’s compassion and is coordinated with the twin Marian feasts of Mary the Immaculate Conception (Tuesday 8th) and our Lady of Guadalupe (Saturday 12th). Both of these images of Mary reveal the compassion of our Lord and inspire us during these Advent days preparing for Christmas. Just as Mary experienced both the pains and joys of expectation for the birth of her child, so too, we are called to prepare our minds and hearts in anticipation of his birth in our lives. The pregnant Virgin gives us a fruitful image of how we might answers Pope Francis’ call to “be witnesses to mercy” during Advent. This week we will reflect on the significance of Mary as the Immaculate Conception, and next week, we will consider the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“I am the Immaculate Conception.” This is how the Lady of Lourdes identified herself to young Bernadette Soubirous in the apparition grotto. Just four years previous, on December 8, 1854, the Church formally stated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in Pope Pius IX’s pronouncement Ineffabilis Deus: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.” There are three key aspects of Immaculate Conception which enrich our faith. First, the Immaculate Conception concerns the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, traditionally know as St. Anne. This is to be distinguished from the virgin birth of Jesus. Some mistakenly think that the Immaculate Conception refers to the moment when Christ became Incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. However, that joyous moment is celebrated on March 25 (nine months before Christmas) on the feast of the Annunciation.
Second, it affirms that Mary is protected from all original sin, i.e., the sin we “inherit” from our first parents. When we speak of “original” sin, it does not refer to the personal sins and selfish actions that we freely choose. Rather, original sin refers to the proclivity to selfishness that we are born with, sort of a “Murphy’s law,” of spirituality: “anyone who has been stained by sin, will at sin.” As Catholics we affirm that God preserved the Blessed Virgin Mary from this original sin in order that she might be a worthy and fitting vessel to receive the all holy, all loving Word of God in her very womb.
Third, not only was Mary immaculately conceived in view of her role as the Mother of God, but because of the very actions of her Son. In other words, Mary needed a Savoir. Even though Mary was immaculately conceived before the birth of her Son and, as Gabriel attests is “full of grace”, it is only the grace of her Son’s saving death and resurrection that makes this possible. In Luke 1:47, Mary proclaims: “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Mary was not preserved from sin because of her own holiness or merits, rather, she was holy because of the grace won for her by her Son.
At the core of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is the beauty of God’s providential mercy. It is for this reason that Pope Francis has chosen to launch the year of mercy on this feast. God not only sent us His Son, but in choosing, blessing and sanctifying the Virgin Mary, He gave us a mother. Since we are “adopted” as God’s children through the Son, we look to Mary as a mother who always inspires, enlightens and guides us her children to her Son. As we continue to anticipate and prepare for the renewal of Jesus in our lives, let us ask our mother Mary to open our hearts as she did, so that Christ may be conceived in our minds and heart afresh.
Fr. Michael, Hurley, O.P.