IMMACULATE CONCEPTION — Saturday, December 8, 2012 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
The Gospel evidences several wonders which occur to the Blessed Virgin Mary. God does not follow the script of Nature; the God of creation acts immediately with a human, in the village of Nazareth, by our man-made calendar, some two thousand years ago. The infinite Creator of this spinning universe commissions an angel as messenger to Mary. An unending amaze excites us to realize that the lord relates to an individual human, in one time and place, and that the infinite communes with one person, limited to the first century of this era, bound to the space of a footprint on this world’s planet.
Mary holds no official position in the Roman hierarchy, and she wields no religious authority among her own people. She is not described as “righteous” in terms of observing Torah, and her experience does not take place in the temple or in any religious setting. Mary is among the most powerless people in her society: she is young in a world that values age; female in a world ruled by men; poor in a stratified economy. How could this one, so ill equipped, have found favor with God? Don’t we wonder that God surprises us and reverses human expectations?
Among the wonders bestowed on Mary, an angel addresses her as “full of grace.” Grace enables a person to share in God’s life. We naturally long for God, and grace assists and elevates this natural desire. Because of daylight, we see the mountain and the snow; because of grace, we realize God’s nearness and His desire for us. Water slakes our thirst; grace eases our relation to our Creator. In realizing our nearness to God, we turn away from evil; lying and stealing loses their attraction, for a better, a higher person attracts us. A magnet draws pins and needles away from glass; it has no affinity for metal items.
Grace is a gift that cannot be earned; one becomes another’s friend without either of the two earning such a relation. Importantly, these two have no material connection, although they mutually relate without physical bond. Because God draws a human, that person feels the tug of holiness, of Godliness. And that elevates a person to another level, quite different from a natural level of knowing and loving. A community in which the members speak of their religious experience differs from a community in which the members speak only of their golf score. Mary fits in a religious environment, among a people who live a covenant with God, where the temple and the annual feasts expresses the people’s relation with God, and where the people experience the Godliness of that environment.
The angel addresses Mary as full of grace. This suggests some degree of the special, of a status different from that of ordinary people. Full of grace also suggests that Mary experiences a full life with God. This wonder of grace receives some explanation when the angel Gabriel says that “the Lord is with you”; the earlier expression receives confirmation. You are full of grace because the Lord is with you.
Among other wonders bestowed on Mary, the angel declares that Mary should bestow the name “Jesus” on the infant. That the mother should decide a child’s name was quite unusual. Zechariah decides the name of his off-spring (Lk. 1:57-79). The angel informs Mary that she should call the child “Jesus.” “He will be Son of the Most High,” that is, son of God.
A further wonder bestowed on Mary, the angel declares, is that the “Holy Spirit will come over you.” This Holy Spirit comes openly and visibly and in the view of other people in the form of a dove when Jesus receives baptism from John the Baptist. This Holy Spirit will lead Jesus into the desert for fasting during forty days. In the Acts of the Apostles, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit will descend on the Apostles with the image of fiery tongues. In these places, the Spirit appears in visible form.
By such wonders, Mary is greatly troubled. She cannot realize what all this means. She is utterly confused. Immediately, the angel reassures Mary; really, such announcement would terrify a girl. Surely it would scare me and scare you. Mary was so afraid that the angel had to encourage her and to make plain that she had found favor with God.
Today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception, that Mary from her inception was free of sin and always close to God. We rejoice that one among us humans attained the fullness of our humanity. We celebrate people of accomplishment; today, we celebrate Mary. God has filled her with His own life. She has attained the fullness of our race. Amen.