The Immaculate Conception and the Triumph of Grace, December 9, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady
December 9, 2013
Gn 3:9-15.20, Ps 98, Eph 1:3-6.11-12, Lk 1:26-38

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here:

 

This was the written text guiding the homily: 

What we’re celebrating

On this great solemnity, we celebrate several things. We commemorate the beginning of the life of our spiritual mother and her spiritual greatness. We rejoice at the beginning of our redemption, when God, through the merits of her Son from 47 years later on the Cross, preserved her “preveniently” from all stain of original sin from the first moment of her life. But what I’d like to focus on today on this great feast is what it teaches us about the triumph of grace over sin and evil and how we’re called to share in, and share with others, that triumph.

The seeming triumph of evil

We see in the first reading the seeming triumph of sin and evil. Satan gets our first parents to distrust in God, saying that only reason why they couldn’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was because God was jealous of his power. Once they distrusted God and disobeyed the one restriction he had given, everything changed and there was a three-fold rupture: a rupture with God, shown in the fact that they were trying to hide from him in the Garden; a rupture with each other, shown in how they covered their most vulnerable parts lest the other hurt them and how neither could accept responsibility for his or her immoral decisions, with Adam’s trying to blame Eve and Eve’s blaming the serpent; and a rupture within themselves, shown in how their body and soul would no longer easily align with what God was asking and how both work and childbirth would be done through the struggle to overcome toil and pangs.

The prophecy of the great comeback and its fulfillment

But we also see in this passage the beginning of the redemption, what tradition calls the “proto-evangelium” or “first Gospel.” God promises that he will put enmity between the serpent and the woman and between her offspring and the devil’s. Enmity is scorn and hatred. It’s obvious that God didn’t have to do anything for the serpent to have enmity toward us: he already hated us and wanted to bring us down, just as he was showing with our first parents. But he put a real enmity in the new Eve, Mary, for the serpent; between her Offspring — Jesus — and the “children” of the evil one, the other demons; and, insofar as we all became adopted children of Mary on Calvary when Jesus said, “Behold your mother!,” and in the person of the beloved disciple told her, “Behold your son!,” God’s plan was also to put enmity between the devil and us — an enmity that would recognize Satan’s evil works and empty promises, an enmity that would say no to the supposed lure of sin.

This all comes to fruition in the Gospel, when we see Mary, having been filled with grace, say as consequential a “yes” to God as Eve’s “no.” By her “fiat,” her “let it be done to be according to your word,” Mary showed that it was possible for grace to triumph over sin, for God to triumph over Satan and evil in the human heart. Mary’s enmity for the serpent out of total love for God was not a one-time declaration. She would continue to reject Satan, all his empty promises, and all his evil works, all the way up until the time when it seemed that he was triumphing over her offspring on the Cross. But she said “Amen” here as well and became, with her Son’s death and resurrection, a co-redeemer.

Mary’s vocation and ours

This is God’s plan for each us, that we have a true enmity for evil so that we, like Mary, through the gift of the redemption we receive not at our conception but at our baptism and thereafter in the sacraments, might be full of grace, full of God, full of joy, full of life.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul reminds us that God the Father “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,” choosing us in Christ before the beginning of time “to be holy and immaculate in his sight” and to “live for the praise of his glory.” Just as much as Mary was chosen by God, so we have chosen. Just as much as by her “yes” the history of the world was changed for the better, so through our “yes” God can change the world, saving us and others for eternity.

Like Mary, however, this won’t happen without our constant consent. We need to spurn the devil and all his allures not just once but continuously. We need to stomp on his head. We really have to reject him, just as was said at our baptism by our parents and godparents and we renew at least every Easter. And like Mary, we have to do more than merely reject evil. We need to say a true “yes” to God’s plan and persevere in that “yes.” The true way we spurn the devil is not in our feelings or even in saying no to him. It’s by loving the Lord with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. It’s by trusting him. It’s by doing his will.

God’s response to the obstacles we face

Many people today think that this type of “holy and immaculate” life is much harder today. There are so many temptations and so much gloom. Evil seems to be spreading. There are wars, broken homes, drug abuse, a pornification and vulgarization of so much of what we watch and listen to, the glorying in one’s belly and libido, the idolatry of money and material things. But we should never forget St. Paul’s assurance that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom 5:20). Because this is a time in which sin is so prevalent, God’s grace is even more prevalent. This age of greater sin is an age in which we can be filled with superabundant grace so that we might, in fact, become holy and immaculate in God’s sight. So we shouldn’t despair. We shouldn’t give in to those Pope Francis in his new apostolic exhortation calls “the prophets of doom.” We should recognize that God’s grace is present so that we might experience a true triumph over sin and so that we can help the Lord guide others to that same victory. As the Archangel Gabriel reminded Mary at the end of today’s Gospel, “Nothing is impossible for God!”

The path to victory

But it’s not enough just to know that triumph over sin is possible. We also need to know the path to that victory in this world and the next. Christ has triumphed, conquered sin and death once and for all, but how do we come to receive the fruits of that conquest? It is by imitating and entering into Mary’s own sharing in her Son’s victory. December 8 is a day in which so many Catholics consecrate themselves to the Blessed Virgin and enter through that consecration into Jesus’ own consecration to the Father so that we may be sanctified in the truth (Jn 17). Mary herself described the importance of consecration to 96 years ago when she appeared to the three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. After showing them a vision of Hell, a prophetic vision of the advance of atheistic communism and the sufferings of the Church including the assassination attempt of a bishop in white, she revealed to the children — and through them to us — the path to overcome these evils. It was consecration to her Immaculate Heart.

Many times when we hear about Mary’s Immaculate Heart or Jesus’ Sacred Heart, we can think about bodily organs, but in the Biblical mentality the heart was a symbol of the character of a person, and so to consecrate ourselves to Mary’s Immaculate Heart is to consecrate ourselves not to ventricles and atria but to Mary as a whole. Mary said that if the world, including Russia, were consecrated to her, her heart would triumph and we would triumph with her. To consecrate ourselves to her heart is to seek a heart like hers, a heart that is pure and sees God in everything (Mt 5:6); a heart that says “fiat” to God in everything and therefore knows no sin; a heart that contemplates and treasures God within, like her contemplative heart; a heart that gives itself wholly and entirely to God and receives him so fully within that Christ can take on that person’s flesh. In short, to be consecrated to Mary’s Immaculate Heart means to seek to love God with all we’ve got, to live by faith, not just a little, but to let our whole life develop according to God’s word.

As we prepare on this great solemnity to receive within us the same Son for whom Mary was immaculately conceived in order to bear for nine months, let us ask her to intercede for us, that we, within her own consecration, may have the true enmity against the devil, that we may say and continue to repeat all our days a wholehearted “yes” to God, that we may respond to God’s superabundant grace to be “holy and immaculate in his sight” and “live for the praise of his glory,” so that one day we may come to experience true joy with her and all the saints where the redemption begun on this day in the womb of St. Anne reaches its fulfillment.

“O Mary conceived without original sin. Pray for us who have recourse to thee!”

The readings for the Mass were: 

Reading 1
GN 3:9-15, 20

After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree,
the LORD God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.”
Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked?
You have eaten, then,
from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with meC
she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman,
“Why did you do such a thing?”
The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

Then the LORD God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this, you shall be banned
from all the animals
and from all the wild creatures;
on your belly shall you crawl,
and dirt shall you eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike at your head,
while you strike at his heel.”

The man called his wife Eve,
because she became the mother of all the living.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4

R. (1) Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.

Reading 2
EPH 1:3-6, 11-12

Brothers and sisters:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved.

In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.

Gospel
LK 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.