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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.

 

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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