There are more than a few Catholics, life-long Catholics, that think this solemnity celebrates the conception of Jesus, immaculately conceived. While all things Marian ultimately point to Jesus, the Immaculate Conception means that Mary from the first moment of her existence was totally free from the influence of that universal sinfulness which touches us all from the time we are born. The reason behind this belief (which is not explicitly contained in Scripture and was only infallibly defined in 1854) has been traditionally offered as only a totally sinless environment was fitting for the Son of God in his becoming a human being. True. Some have offered it was Jesus honoring his mother in fulfillment of the commandments. The Franciscan scholar John Duns Scotus was the first to offer a theological explanation which is the basis of 1854 declaration of the belief as dogma. But I like his final comment in which Scotus basically said: He is God, he could do it, and he did it.
It’s important to understand what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is and what it is not. Some people think the term refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; but that is the Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary was conceived “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” in the way Jesus was, but that, too, is incorrect. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what “immaculate” means: without stain. The essence of original sin consists in the deprivation of sanctifying grace, and its stain is a corrupt nature. Mary was preserved from these defects by God’s grace; from the first instant of her existence she was in the state of sanctifying grace and was free from the corrupt nature original sin brings. Continue reading
One of the interesting phenomena of my recent reassignment to St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle VA has been a rather dramatic shift in my sleep patterns. Be it attributable to winter’s approach, different sunlight in this more northern climate, getting on in years, or some as-yet-to-be-diagnosed condition – I am living out the old axiom of “early to bed, early to rise.” By 8:30 pm I am glancing at the clock, thinking whether its too early to go to bed. While I think “maybe I can write for a bit…” that never works out well. So, pull the covers up, settle in and come 3:30 am or 4:00 am life again stirs. And I find I have more energy for the creative things and early morning prayer…and its always surprising what captures my imagination.