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.
I have often wondered if the choice of readings contributes to the misunderstanding about the feast. The Gospel is from the celebration of the Annunciation, which is announcing the conception of Jesus. But as mentioned, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is not explicitly contained in Scripture – so no specific gospel. But… there is a reason these are the readings.
Step back and consider that the arc of the readings is from Genesis all the way to the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps a reminder that Mary was not the first human come into life without sin… it was Adam and Eve. The first human beings, in full freedom, rejected God. However, God never rejected us. Moreover, as the scriptures say, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Lord, to redeem the subjects of the Lord.
The Second Reading tells us that all of us have been called by God to share his love and blessings long before we even existed. This is even more true of Mary, who was singled out from eternity by God to be the Mother of his Son. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds us of the holiness to which we are called. The whole purpose of our lives is to live and to exist for the praise and the glory of God. Mary did just that through her obedience and trust in God. She showed us how to be holy. Like Adam and Eve, Mary is fully human – free to choose. The arc of her life initiated in the Garden, responded to the call of God.
God’s deepest desire is that we respond to His call – that we be like Mary, following the trajectory of her arc.
Let us be deeply aware that, long before we were born, every single one of us has been called by God to know, love and serve him. We have been the constant recipients of his blessings. How will we respond? Unlike Mary, we were born touched by a sinful world. However, we also can become filled with grace if, like her, we say a resounding and unconditional ‘Yes’ to all that God wants from us. Amen.