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Reflecting upon the Immaculate Conception

Every Dec. 8, the Church observes the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and without fail, people think that this refers to Jesus’ conception, when it is actually the celebration of Mary being conceived without sin. I want to reflect with you on this mystery, so that we can appreciate its significance in salvation history.

The Catechism explains that through “the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception.” And in 1854 Pope Pius IX declared that this teaching is an infallible dogma of the Church.

Just as God’s grace reaches us 2,000 years after his death and resurrection through the sacraments, so too, did God the Father give the graces of his son’s sacrifice to Mary, so that she was conceived in her mother’s womb without inheriting Adam and Eve’s original sin.

This is what we celebrate every Dec. 8. God chose a woman, through the gift of motherhood, to actively participate in the redemption of the world! In the Office of Readings for this feast, St. Anselm eloquently observes, “Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night — everything that is subject to the power or use of man — rejoices that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace.”

It is truly wonderful and mysterious that God the Father began the redemption of the world by choosing Mary to play a vital role in his plan. This is why the Church Fathers speak of Mary as the “New Eve,” since by her obedience and trust, Mary began the process of undoing the harm inflicted by Eve’s disobedience and distrust.

The first bishops of the United States appreciated Mary’s unique role in our salvation and her heavenly protection, so in 1846 — some eight years before Pope Pius IX’s declaration of her sinless conception — they requested that she be named the patroness of our country, under the title Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Similarly, the Archdiocese of Denver has Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception as its principal patroness and has named its cathedral basilica after her.

Mary might seem far from our everyday reality, but she is truly very close to us. She knows what it’s like to grow up in an uncertain time, to accept great responsibility at a young age, to raise a child in a place like Egypt and then return to Nazareth. She knew poverty and danger. She also knew great loss through the death of St. Joseph and then the death of her son, Jesus.

The key to Mary’s perseverance through the uncertain and unclear moments in her life can be found in her trust in the Father. Rather than doubting him when things seemed hard to believe, Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). When, for example, the shepherds appeared shortly after Jesus was born and related the angels’ message that they would find the Messiah wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, Mary pondered this miracle in her heart.

St. Anslem offers some insight into this mystery in a sermon he gave for this solemnity. He preached: “God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life.”

On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation, may our hearts grow like Mary’s in trust of God the Father, and may we offer thanks to the Father for the gift of Mary our mother, and through her tender maternal intercession may we grow in greater trust to give witness to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior!

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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