Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Mary, AssumptionDuring these past few weeks, I’ve spent more time than usual with our Blessed Mother as I worked to prepare these reflections. I must admit, it has been an unexpectedly good way to enter more deeply into this beautiful Advent season!In exploring a bit of history of this feast, I discovered that there are differences between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions in understanding of the meaning of this feast, and yet there is a common thread of celebrating Mary’s sinless lifespan as the “most holy and all pure Mother of God.”

Since there are no scriptural texts to go with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, we have today’s Gospel from Luke with a focus on the conception of Jesus in His mother’s womb rather than Mary’s own conception and freedom from sin. However, we do hear in our Gospel today the words of the angel to Mary, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you…Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” These words speak to me of innocence and holiness in an extraordinary person!

Tapping into my imagination a bit now, I would like to take a look back at the childhood of this extraordinary, yet ordinary person, because we know how much one’s childhood often becomes the foundation of one’s adulthood.

We know very little about Mary’s childhood, but we can imagine what kind of a child she must have been – toddling around, climbing on the laps of Joachim and Anne to be cuddled and soak up their love, laughing and crying as life unfolded, being enthralled with all the gifts of nature, playing by herself and with her friends, feeling the suffering of others, wanting to kiss the hurts of another child, giving of herself to make others happy – all of us have probably known children like that, haven’t we?

As Mary matured into a young woman, the depth of her spirit, and her growing awareness of God’s presence in her life was gradually revealed. Throughout Scripture, we see many instances of this through the kinds of courageous choices she made when she was fearful, uncertain, lonely, or overwhelmed with deep love or sorrow. Time after time, she must have uttered the words of today’s Gospel: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary emptied herself so that she could be filled by God.

Dear Mary, help us to do the same!

– Sister Barbara Paul, OP

A native of St. Louis, Sister Barbara is enjoying the many
opportunities for prayer and contemplation in her retirement at Dominican Convent in Sparkill.

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