Understanding the Immaculate Conception of Mary

8 December 2010 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Genesis 3: 9-20; Psalm 98; Eph 1: 3-12; Luke 1: 26-38

Allow me to be graphic: First, imagine a plate you use for food. Then imagine the same plate with poop on it. What is your reaction? Naturally, we cringe on the plate with poop. Why? Because feces does not belong to the plate. Plates are containers of food. It has to be clean and should not be contaminated.

The same thing, though simplistic, can be used to understand the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because Mary will be the “plate” or vessel in which Jesus is to be born, then God made her clean and free from original sin. In other words, being immaculate is not through Mary’s power, but God’s decision in view of her being the mother of His only begotten Son.

In the Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.” (Detailed explanation here.)

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, therefore, is a preparation for Mary’s role in the future, just as the plate is cleaned in view of what it will contain. And therefore, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception should always be attached to Christ. Because of Christ’s redeeming power, Mary has been graced to be free from original sin.

How then can we apply the teaching of the Immaculate Conception in our practical and mundane lives? Let us first settle with our future. In view of the second coming of Christ in the end of the world, we participate in the preparation of the whole of humanity for the Final Judgment. In view of the our own personal deaths when we finally meet the Lord, our whole life then is a preparation period for this transition to a better life. In view of encountering God in our own personal history, we make ourselves open anytime the Spirit palpably inspires us. God’s intervention or participation in our individual lives are experienced by the senses as seeing and hearing in the conversion of St. Paul.

Second, we reflect and evaluate ourselves on the type and quality of our preparations. The following questions are very concrete in the midst of the Season of Advent:

How ready are we to encounter the Lord anytime? How do we constantly purge ourselves of our inordinate attachments? Are we remorseful, repentant and eager to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation to straighten our relationship with ourselves, others and with God?

Finally, we reflect on the measures we actively take to prepare ourselves. In this liturgical season that prepares for Christmas, we may take some of these steps.

We have to focus our attention on the story of the birth of Jesus. In a commercialized culture, where receiving gifts symbolized by Santa Claus take center stage, there are many things that we can do to refocus on the true nature of Christmas. The role of parents is important in bringing the holiday spirit. They should retell the story of Christmas to our children. In decorating our homes, we can put prominence on the belen to remind our children the reason for the season.

We can do an “agere contra” or “doing the opposite” of our natural tendencies. If we find ourselves becoming very individualistic and selfish, we participate in activities that are altruistic such as rummage sales for the poor, gift-giving for underprivileged children, or visiting the sick and the prisoners.

If we find ourselves taking for granted the people who matter, then we can begin remembering them by writing them personally and greeting them with Christmas cards, or perhaps, using the allotted resources for the holidays only for them and ‘deprive’ ourselves this time.

If we think we have been ‘estranged from the Lord’ then we can participate in many spiritual and communal activities such as Reconciliation services for Advent, the Simbanggabi masses, and even spending a significant time to quiet down, pray and meditate on the story of Christmas.

By doing some of these things, we will be able to ‘prepare’ ourselves to become vessels of God’s grace; just as God prepared Mary to become the “container” of our Savior.

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