Mary, baptism and hidden graces

On Saturday, the Church will celebrate the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On this day, we recall that Mary was conceived without sin, in anticipation of her vocation as the mother of Jesus Christ.

Mary’s conception is a great mystery of our faith. Her sinless soul ensured that she would be perfectly prepared to serve Jesus Christ as his mother—and as the mother of all humanity. All of us can appreciate the beauty of a sinless soul carrying and caring for our Incarnate God. But few of us can relate to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.

Friends, especially mothers, often tell me that while they love Mary, pray to her and rely on her, few can relate to her sinlessness. In fact, many of us have the experience of reflecting on Mary’s sinless soul and feeling inadequate in our own sinfulness. But Mary, too, felt inadequate to fulfill her vocation. At the Annunciation, Mary heard the call of the Lord and was troubled. She was frightened. She may have felt unprepared. And all of us can relate to that.

But God didn’t call Mary to serve as God’s mother without preparing her by grace. Instead God gave her the grace of a sinless conception in order to fulfill her vocation. St. Maximilian Kolbe, the great Franciscan martyr of Auschwitz, explained that Mary was immaculately conceived because God needed her to be. He wrote that “she was immaculate because she was to become the Mother of God; she became the Mother of God because she was immaculate.”

In our baptisms and confirmations, God has also given us the grace we need to fulfill the vocations to which he has called us.

If we want to learn from the Immaculate Conception, we should look at the response of Mary to the angel at the Annunciation. At first she was afraid. But she heard the call of the Lord and she responded by relying on the grace that God had given her. When she proclaimed, with confidence and fidelity, “may it be done to me according to your word,” Mary was relying on the grace of her Immaculate Conception.

When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth commended Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Like Mary, if we want to allow God to use us in his plan, we must trust in the graces he has given us. We can have confidence that he is faithful to his promises.

Mary’s Immaculate Conception was a hidden kind of grace. God’s plan was not announced to her in childhood. She could not see her Immaculate Conception. She may not have even known it was there.  But God’s grace dwelt within her. It allowed her to practice virtue, to love as God loves. Quietly, secretly, Mary’s life was lived in the freedom of Jesus Christ.

Our baptisms are also hidden graces. We cannot see that we have been baptized or even perceive it. But we know that by our baptism God dwells within us—allowing us to grow in virtue and holiness and the love of God. Without Mary’s Immaculate Conception, she could not have become the Mother of God. Without our baptisms, we could not become the saints God wishes us to become. We could not live with the love of God the Father.

The world needs Jesus Christ. And so the world needed Mary to make him present. The world needs us, too, to become the saints who will proclaim Jesus Christ and make him present. If we want to become those saints, we need to rely on the graces of our baptisms. We need to rely on Christ. In our fear, in our unworthiness, in our uncertainty—we need to trust in the perfect grace God gives us. In this Year of Faith, let us pray for a greater confidence, trust and faith in the promises and graces bestowed on us by the God who is love. There is no better example of that truth than Mary, who was conceived without sin so that the world would know Jesus Christ.


COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”