This coming Monday, we will celebrate the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We do so because the Father in his eternal love kept Mary sinless from the moment of her conception so that she could give birth to his son, Jesus.
The fact that Mary was conceived without sin is a mystery of our faith, but that does not mean we cannot understand what God did, or at least begin to understand it. And as we comprehend this mystery more, we also see that Mary’s femininity played a key role in our salvation.
Mary was saved through Jesus in a very real way even before she was conceived—her Immaculate Conception was Our Lord’s very first act of redemption of fallen humanity. Her sinless soul ensured that she would be perfectly prepared to serve Jesus Christ as his mother and that she would be able to be the mother of all humanity.
But the fact remains that Mary still felt inadequate when she was called upon by God to fulfill her vocation. This is something that all of us experience when we strive to answer God’s call for our lives.
At the Annunciation, Mary heard the call of the Lord and was troubled and frightened. She was surprised by the presence of the angel and the words spoken to her. She may have felt unprepared and inadequate. She pondered how this could be possible. We can all relate to that.
But God didn’t call Mary to serve as God’s mother without first preparing her with grace. The great mystery of her Immaculate Conception is that God chose to give Mary a soul that was pure, so that she could fulfill her unique and feminine vocation. And this is made apparent in the first words the Archangel Gabriel spoke to her—“full of grace” or “favored.”
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.”
Mary’s vocation as the Mother of God and the way that her feminine virtues were essential for that role bring to mind Pope Francis’ most recent letter on evangelization.
In his Nov. 24 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis raised again the need for greater participation by women in the Church’s decision-making and recognized the unique gifts they contribute to her life.
“The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. … But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church,” he wrote.
Mary’s trust in God, her willingness to step forward in faith despite her fear, her parenting of Jesus, and her obedience to God’s plan even though it meant a “sword would pierce her heart,” offer the perfect example of how the Church is enriched by women.
In fact, it is even more dramatic than that. Without Mary’s “yes” to God’s invitation to be the mother of Jesus, his plan to save humanity would have had to be different.
The overthrow of death by Jesus through his conception in her womb, and his life, death and resurrection with Mary present, were all the fruit of her trust in God and fidelity to her vocation.
Her trust brought to life the most feminine quality of all, her motherhood, earning her the title “Mother of All the Living.” And it is this powerful aspect of trust as God brought his hidden plan to life that all of us should imitate.
Mary is the first among the disciples of Jesus, and like Mary, every one of us is called to humility and trust. We should strive to instill profound trust in God that is like Mary’s in our physical or spiritual children.
That means trusting God even in moments of fear or uncertainty, in times of suffering or the cross when a sword pierces our hearts, or in circumstances where his plan for us seems impossible to comprehend, let alone to complete. For with God, all things work for the good and are possible, including the Immaculate Conception. Our task is to open our hearts to the Father’s eternal love, and speak, “Let it be done according to your word.”