The Immaculate Conception: Prepared to Receive Jesus

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat given at Sacred Heart Retreat House
Alhambra, California
“Renewal at the School of Mary”
November 7-9, 2003

The Immaculate Conception: Prepared to Receive Jesus
Introduction to the Retreat

I. Welcome

•On behalf of Almighty God, I welcome you here to this retreat.

•He knew from all eternity you’d be here. He’s been planning to keep his appointment and he’s so happy you’ve kept yours. He knows that some of you had to make some great sacrifices to be here. He’s thrilled you made it.

II. Personal introduction

•Priest of the Diocese of Fall River, stationed in Hyannis, MA at the Parish of St. Francis Xavier.

•After receiving a biology degree from Harvard, I prepared for the priesthood in Maryland, Toronto and for several years at the North American College in Rome. In addition to the normal studies every candidate for the priesthood needs to complete, I had the great joy for two years to study at the John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage and Family, where I had the chance to get to know the thought of JP II much better.

•I also had the great joy of being a guide to the tomb of St. Peter and to the various Christian basilicas of the city. I think in many ways the work of a retreat master is like that of a guide to the Holy spots, to point out to you the meaning of some of the things you “see” and to bring you through those sites to the faith that built them and to the Lord for whom they were built.

•Since I’ve returned to the United States, I spent several years working with Portuguese immigrants in the city of Fall River and as a high school chaplain. I’ve also had the chance to do a lot of teaching and adult education, especially on the thought of Pope John Paul II and on bioethics.

III. Purpose of a retreat

•First and foremost, to spend time with God. Jesus used to take his disciples apart with him.

•Mark 6:31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

•We’ve come apart with Jesus here, so that he can refresh us. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

•But there’s a purpose to our time with Jesus. We come to pray.

•Prayer is seeking Jesus, finding him, loving him, and doing his will (out of love for him). It’s a dialogue that opens up the mystery of who God is and the mystery of who we are in God.

•Jesus is here and he’s going to give us his undivided attention, to listen to us, to love us, to refresh us, and to speak to us through various whispers.

IV. Theme of this retreat

•Every retreat has a theme, something binding all of the various aspects of the retreat together.

•Here at Alhambra, they have a theme that runs through all of the retreats during the course of the year.

•Last year the theme was prayer. This year, because for the last 12 months we’ve been living in the Church the year of the Holy Rosary, the theme is Mary.

•I’ve entitled the retreat, “Renewal at the School of Mary.”

V. If the purpose of a retreat is to encounter Jesus, why spend a whole weekend reflecting on Mary?

•For very good reasons.

•Because Mary brings Christ to us and brings us to Christ.

◦This is depicted in countless statues. Mary is seen with child, like with the Virgin of Guadalupe, or with Christ in her arms, presenting or handing him to us.

◦She brings us to Christ too, allowing us to understand him better through her own eyes.

•But the more we come to Christ, we realize that Christ brings us to his mother. From the Cross, he gave her to us as our mother, and gave us to her as her sons and daughters.

•Some people recognize this relationship between Christ and Mary very easily and have a long history of Mary’s bringing them to Christ.

•But others may have some doubts about whether it really works. If so, you wouldn’t be the first.

•Pope John Paul II, when he was a young man, had similar difficulties. He writes in one of his autobiographical reflections:

◦“In Debniki, at the time when my priestly vocation was developing, … a change took place in my understanding of devotion to the Mother of God. I was already convinced that Mary leads us to Christ, but at that time I began to realize also that Christ leads us to his Mother. At one point, I began to question my devotion to Mary, believing that, if it became too great, it might end up compromising the supremacy of the worship owed to Christ. At that time, I was greatly helped by a book by St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort entitled Treatise of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. There I found answers to my questions. Yes, Mary does bring us closer to Christ; she does lead us to him, provided that we live her mystery in Christ.” (JP II)

•Mary leads us to Christ, provided that we live her mystery in Christ. That’s what we’re going to trying to do over the course of this retreat. To live with her the mystery of Christ.

•Pope John Paul II, in his beautiful letter on the Rosary, invited us to enter into the “school of Mary,” so that she can teach us how to contemplate her Son’s face.

•Among creatures, no one knows Christ better than Mary nor can introduce us to his mystery better than she. We’re going to enter the classroom of her heart, with the windows of her eyes, to behold her Son. We’ll live the mystery of Christ with her, stopping with her to penetrate more deeply:

◦Her Immaculate Conception

◦The Annunciation

◦The Visitation

◦The various episodes in which Mary treasured the events of Christ in her heart.

◦The wedding feast of Cana

◦The crucifixion of her Son, when she stood at the foot of the Cross.

◦Pentecost, when the apostles huddled around her waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit

◦And her Assumption and Coronation in that place where she waits for us.

•It’s going to be quite a journey.

•As we study each of the mysteries of Christ and his mother’s participation in them, we remain conscious of one of the central truths of the Second Vatican Council, which Pope John Paul II has never ceased to repeat. “Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”

•In a certain sense, as the Holy Father says in his beautiful document on our Lady, the Mother of our Redeemer, he fully reveals Mary.

•Not only does Mary reveal Christ to us, but Christ reveals her to us: “If it is true, as the Council itself proclaims, that “only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light,” then this principle must be applied in a very particular way to that exceptional “daughter of the human race,” that extraordinary “woman” who became the Mother of Christ. Only in the mystery of Christ is her mystery fully made clear” (RM 4).

•Not only does she reveal him, he reveals her. Each of the mysteries of her life is caught up in relation to Jesus, to her mission to be his mother. Christ reveals Mary to us and Mary her Son. Such would be the clear pattern of two who deeply love each other.

•Let’s enter into that story of love that will never end, because the point of this weekend is to recognize that we’re central characters in it.

•By presenting Mary in the mystery of Christ, we also find a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Church, and the mystery of us in the Church (RM 5). Mary has a two-fold bond united with Christ and with the Church and with us who are in the Church.

Immaculate Conception: Prepared to Receive Jesus

I. The beginning

•We start at the beginning of Mary’s life, 14 years before the Angel Gabriel appeared to her in Nazareth, the first moment of her existence in the womb of her Mother, St. Anne.

•Her conception was different from any other and had a long prehistory.

•With Adam and Eve’s first sin, a great inheritance was lost. Passed down from generation to generation. ince the first births of Cain and Abel, they were born without the inheritance God wanted to be passed down. Enron example. This is what we call original sin.

•But there was also hope.

•Gen. 3:14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

•As we see from the words of the Protogospel, the victory of the woman’s Son will not take place without a hard struggle, a struggle that is to extend through the whole of human history. The “enmity,” foretold at the beginning, in found in the Apocalypse. (RM 11). Mary is at the center of that enmity. God’s grace and election at her is greater than that enmity and Mary remains a sign of hope.

•Mary was born with no stain of original sin. She was born with all the supernatural gifts. “Full of grace.” There was no other room for anything. Nothing was absent.

•This happened by an eternal act of God, outside of time, through the eternal saving act of her Son, Jesus.

•As the Holy Father states it, By virtue of the richness of the grace of the beloved Son, by reason of the redemptive merits of him who willed to become her Son, Mary was preserved from the inheritance of original sin. (RM 10). From the first moment of her existence, she was united to Christ’s grace, belonging to Christ.

•Mary receives life from him to whom she herself, in the order of earthly generation, gave life as a mother. (RM 10). The grace comes wholly from Christ.

•She was, to put it in the words of the Catechism, “redeemed from the moment of her conception” (CCC 491)

II. Why the Immaculate Conception?

•Fathers of the Church say in light of the incarnation of the Lord. There were two reasons:

◦So that she would be totally free to say yes to the invitation of the Lord.

◦So that no sin would ever touch Jesus in the womb

•So holy was Jesus that no sin should ever touch him. And in order to say yes to God, to give of herself to God’s plan fully, she had to have herself, she couldn’t be the slave to sin at all. For both of those reasons she was immaculately conceived. In order to respond and receive the Lord, she had to be free from sin.

III. The Immaculate Conception and us.

•At first that creates a problem. We’re called to say yes to the Lord throughout our life, but also on this retreat. He wants to fill us with grace during this retreat. He wants to fill us with himself.

•But we’re not immaculately conceived. How can we be fit to receive him?

•Out of love, God created a sacrament for us so that we would be fit. It’s baptism, in which original sin is wiped away, we’re made truly a child of God, and we become temples of the Holy Spirit full of grace. We’re given the light of Christ and instructed to keep it burning brightly, unextinguished by the poison of sin. We’re covered in a white garment reflective of the purity of our soul and told to take that white garment unstained to meet Christ when he comes. That’s the white wedding garment he wants us wearing to the eternal banquet.

•At this retreat, we’re called to ask ourselves, in the light of God’s presence, “How’s the flame burning? Has it died out? We’re also called to check our white garment.

•The Lord knew in advance that few of us would keep the purity of our baptismal grace, so he created what the fathers of the Church all a “second baptism” in the sacrament of confession, where Christ lights the candle again, when he cleans and presses completely our baptismal garment and makes it sparkle.

•To receive everything he wants to give us, we have to be ready. We have to be “full of grace” like Mary to say yes to his offer, to receive within us the same flesh and blood she carried for nine months within her.

•This weekend, Jesus will be hearing confessions, to do just that. This was part of Jesus’ great Easter gift. Peace be with you. Receive the HS. Forgive, forgiven; retain, retained. Only way to know is if they were told. The same priests whom Jesus uses as his instruments to give us his flesh and blood, he uses for his instruments to absolve us from our sins.

•There will be about 8 hours for confession this weekend. I encourage you to go. I encourage you to go as early as possible in the retreat, as soon as you’ve had a chance to examine your conscience well. The reason for that is to be as “full of grace” as you can be so that the Lord can be filling you further over the course of these days.

IV. The Immaculate Conception, Mary and desire to rid us of sin.

•Mary, her immaculate conception and her motherly desire to have us purified of sin all go together.

•Several times in history, God has allowed her to appear on earth with a message. In Guadalupe in 1531. In Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

•Catholics don’t have to believe this with Catholic faith, but to use common sense, as the Church does, to evaluate it. But common sense tells us that there’s no way the image of Our Lady could have gotten on the tilma of Juan Diego, with the images in the eye, etc., and just as the Sun couldn’t spin and dry soaking wet clothes in a matter of minutes.

•One of the most famous apparitions happened in Lourdes, France in 1858. Between Feb 11 and July 16 of that year, Mary appeared 18 times to a 14-year old girl named Bernadette. She appeared with Rosary beads and prayed the Rosary with the young girl. She seldom spoke, just prayed.

•But in the eighth apparition, Mary said, “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!” As JP II said when he visited the grotto, August 14, 1983, “What message can I give you to guide your actions. Simply this: the Virgin without sin brings help to sinners.”

•And about a month later, on March 25, the feast of the annunciation, during the 16th apparition, after Bernadette had been asked by the bishop to request the Lady’s name, recollecting herself and holding the Rosary in her joined hands, Mary said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

•Just four years earlier, Bl. Pope Pius IV had declared this dogma solemnly. Bernadette didn’t even know what the words meant when she relayed them to the bishop, which was a great sign to him of the appearance’s authenticity. Mary said her NAME was “the immaculate conception.”

•She who is the immaculate conception was there calling us to penance and repentance.

•Mary spent three days and three nights looking for the son who was lost. It is so easy to lose Christ; He can be lost by even a little heedlessness; a little want of watchfulness, and the Divine presence slips away. Sin is the loss of Jesus and since Mary felt the sting of His absence, she could understand the gnawing heart of every sinner and be to it, in the truest sense of the words, “refuge of sinners.”

•In the ninth apparition (Feb 25), Mary said, “Drink of the spring and wash yourself there.” Each year 400,000 people wash in the water of the baths and many are cured. But there’s a greater healing that’s needed, the healing of soul, and so many thousands more receive that sacrament in Lourdes.

•Mary starts off this retreat by saying to each one of us, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” and the Holy Father says, “The Virgin without sin brings help to sinners.” That help is in the form of her Son, to whom she will introduce you in a profound way during these days, to whom she hopes you go to meet in the sacrament of reconciliation, whom she can’t wait for you receive fully in the Eucharist tomorrow.

V. Note on silence

•There’s a great contrast between the two appearances of the Archangel Gabriel and the responses.

•First Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist, to tell him that his prayers had been heard: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

•Why this particular punishment? It would have seemed more fitting to say, “Deal’s off, Zechariah.” He was struck mute basically so that he could contemplate the gift, so that he could have the time to receive it in faith.

•There’s a big contrast between that and Mary’s response. She knew God could do it, despite her consecrated virginity, but just asked how it would happen without her needing to sleep with a man. Gabriel explained it and she said her famous yes. Later on, several times in Luke, the evangelist tells us “Mary treasured these things in her heart.” She was by nature silent and contemplative, letting the “great things the Lord was doing for her” penetrate her.

•We’ll have a chance to talk tomorrow about Mary’s contemplative heart.

•I introduce it here, at the beginning of the retreat, to let you know we want you to be more like Mary than Zechariah! We’re asking you to keep a sacred silence, so that the good things the Lord wants to say to you has a chance to penetrate deeply.

•Practically speaking, the Lord and his Mother are going to want to be speaking to those around you as well, so please don’t interrupt those conversations unless truly necessary. Keep the conversation in your heart going with Jesus through Mary.

VI. We finish by asking Mary to pray for us now, sinners called to continual conversion, as the Archangel Gabriel and St. Elizabeth taught us.