Immaculate Conception Genesis 3:9–15, 20; Ephesians 1:3–6, 11–12; Luke 1:26–38
The prisoner Mary is a model for our own Advent preparation.
An American soldier tells this story. He had been taken prisoner by the Nazis during World War II.
One day he found himself in a long column of prisoners marching across the countryside. After several hours of walking, the guards halted the column next to a woods. They then gave the prisoners permission to take care of nature.
The American soldier decided to take a chance and hide. It worked. The column marched off without him.
That night the soldier left the woods and began to work his way back through enemy territory to the American lines. When dawn came, he went back into hiding, taking shelter between two huge rocks.
Then came a frightening experience. On a hill, not far away, stood a group of German villagers, staring at him and the POW on his uniform.
The soldier knew he had to take a big risk. He walked toward the villagers, making signs that he was unarmed. When he reached them, he began to recite the Mass prayers in Latin. He figured they might be Catholic, like himself. But they didn’t seem to understand.
Then the soldier reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny prayerbook. The inside cover contained a picture of the osary of Our Lady. Pointing to it, he made the Sign of the Cross.
This time the villagers understood perfectly.
The soldier then returned to his hiding place, hoping he would now be safe.
An hour later, however, his hopes were dashed. A rifle shot rang out, hitting the rock.
But then he noticed an old villager motioning for him to return to the hill. The villagers had arranged to smuggle him back to the American lines.
American servicemen in World War II, like Americans in general, had a special devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
They were particularly devoted to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. For it was under this title that we dedicated our country to Mary in the earlier days of our history.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854.
Belief in this doctrine dates back to the earliest days of Christianity. It holds that Mary was untouched by sin from the moment of her conception. In other words, Mary was born free of original sin and remained free of all sin throughout her life.
The teaching of the Immaculate Conception accords with the teaching of Scripture. For example, in today’s first reading God speaks these words to Satan:
“I will make you and the woman hate each other; her offspring and yours will always be enemies.”
Catholics have always viewed the woman here to refer ultimately to Mary and her offspring to refer ultimately to Jesus. Mary and Jesus stand at the opposite end of the spectrum to Satan.
And in today’s gospel reading, the angel addresses Mary in these words:
“Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!”
That passage speaks for itself. Mary is in a class apart from all other women.
It’s not surprising that God should have shielded Mary from sin. After all, she was to be the mother of God’s Son. Is it not fitting that the Son of God should be born of a sinless mother?
It is especially fitting that we should celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception during the season of Advent.
For just as Mary prepared herself for the coming of Jesus by prayer, so we should prepare ourselves to celebrate his coming by prayer.
Mary is a model of our own Advent preparation for Jesus’ coming.
She is one to whom we can turn in our own Advent preparation and ask her for her help and her grace.
Let’s close by praying the opening lines of the song of praise that fell from Mary’s lips shortly after the angel’s announcement that she was to be the mother of Jesus:
“My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Savior, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant! From now on all people will call me happy,because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me. His name is holy.’ ” Luke 1:46–49
Series II Immaculate Conception Genesis 3:9–15, 20; Ephesians 1:3–6, 11–12; Luke 1:26–38
The medal Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is still a powerful force in our world.
Ahigh school student in Chicago shared a moving story with his teacher.
One beautiful Saturday afternoon the student returned home from work. In front of his house was a familiar sight: his uncle’s beat-up Ford.
His uncle came over to his house frequently. More often than not, it was to borrow money from the boy’s mother. This is the student’s story, as told to his teacher:
“This borrowing never got me mad. It only made me glad that my mother was helping her brother. I think my mother enjoyed helping her brother more than spending the money on herself.
“After going into the house and saying hello to my uncle, I hurried off to McDonald’s to bring back food for all of us.
“When I returned, I found my mother and uncle involved in a serious conversation.
“Just as I took a bite out of my Big Mac, my uncle dropped a bombshell. He said that he was recovering from a serious drug problem. I nearly choked on my Big Mac!
“My uncle then went on to confess that he used the money that he had been borrowing from my mother to support his habit.
“Then he dropped a second bombshell. He said that at one point he seriously considered committing suicide.
He said that he would probably have done so, had it not been for a chance happening.
“One day as he was walking along, he suddenly spotted a round object on the ground. It looked like a coin.
“He bent over and picked it up. It was a religious medal. On it was Mary’s image with these words: ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’ My uncle took the medal home with him.
“When he got home, he felt a strong urge to go to the phone book and look up the name and phone number of the local Catholic Church. To his amazement, the church was named Our Lady of Lourdes.
“It was at Lourdes in France in 1858 that Mary had appeared to a peasant girl. Among other things,Mary said to her, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’
“My uncle telephoned the church and got the times of the Masses. From that day on, he attended Mass daily. He kicked his drug habit and has remained clean ever since.
“About six months after he began attending Mass daily, the pastor called him aside and told him that he had noticed him a lot at Mass.
“After talking for a while, the pastor invited him to join a new parish program. It involved visiting homes in the parish and inviting inactive Catholics to return to their faith.
“My uncle agreed, and the pastor gave him several items to be used in his new work.
“One of the items was a religious medal. When my uncle looked at it, he couldn’t believe his eyes. On it was an image of Mary with these words: I am the Immaculate Conception.’
“The medal was identical to the one that had saved his life and brought him back to Church.’’
That student’s moving story is striking testimony that Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is at work in our world.
This brings us to the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate today.
The title “Immaculate Conception’’ simply means that Mary was preserved by God from sin, from the moment of her conception to the moment of her death.
When you think about it, it’s fitting that God should have preserved Mary from sin. After all, she was to be the Mother of the Son of God. And what is more fitting than to preserve the Mother of the Son of God from sin.
It’s also fitting that we should celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception during the season of Advent.
For just as Mary prepared herself for the birth of Jesus by prayer, so we should prepare ourselves for the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas by prayer.
And so Mary is a model for our own Advent preparation. She wants to help us, just as she helped the student’s uncle. She is not only the physical mother of Jesus, but our spiritual mother as well.
This is the message of today’s feast. This is the good news that we celebrate together in today’s liturgy.
Let’s close with these words from a hymn to Mary. The words make a fitting conclusion to the student’s beautiful story of his uncle:
“Mother of Christ, Star of the Sea, pray for the wanderer, pray for me.’’
Series III Immaculate Conception Genesis 3:9–15, 20; Ephesians 1:3–6, 11–12; Luke 1:26–38
Mary’s glory Mary is the mother of Jesus and our mother too.
I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her. Luke 1:38
In 1982 the Israeli army invaded Lebanon while Israeli jets bombed its capital, Beirut.
Dan O’Neill, a recent convert to Catholicism, and two Protestant friends were staying at a Beirut hotel at the time.
When the bombs began to fall, the three men were coming down a marble stairway.
When the marble floor began to buckle beneath them, they froze in their tracks.
Not knowing what to do, Dan began praying out loud.
What prayer spontaneously came to his lips? It was the Hail Mary. This caught him and his Protestant friends by surprise.
What surprised them most was that, in this moment of serious crisis, Dan like a lifelong Catholic instinctively turned to Mary for help.
Ilike that story because it illustrates a truth that is rooted deep in the Catholic psyche.
It is this: Mary is not only the mother of Jesus but also our spiritual mother.
And in times of crisis, we seem to realize this instinctively and turn to her for help.
Thus, from early times, Catholics have spontaneously turned to Mary in times of need.
What is true of early Christians is also true of modern Christians, as the story of Dan O’Neill shows.
Thus, on this feast of Mary, if we find ourselves in some state of crisis, we could pay her no greater honor than to turn to her for help.
Moreover, since Mary is consecrated to our nation under the title of the Immaculate Conception, we could celebrate her feast in no better way than to ask her to continue to protect and to guide our nation, as she has done so faithfully in the past. Permit me to end with a meditation on Mary:
Mary gave flesh to God flesh to be visible to human eyes, flesh to touch the leper’s wounds.
Mary gave hands to God hands to bless the little children,hands to break bread for the hungry.
Mary gave feet to God feet to walk among the sick,feet to go in search of the sinner.
Mary gave eyes to God eyes to weep at a friend’s grave,eyes to look into the human heart.
Jesus no longer walks in flesh today. If he is to be seen by human eyes,it must be in and through us.
If he is to continue to heal the sick,touch the leper, and bless the children, it must be with our hands and feet.
If he is to continue to feed the hungry and look into the human heart,it must be with our hands and our eyes. As Mary gave flesh to Jesus in her day, we, too,must give flesh to Jesus in our day.
And if we do what Mary did,Jesus will walk among us once more and make our world new again. Adapted from a similar meditation by an unknown author