Immaculate Conception: The feast that calls us to live lives ‘full of grace’

When I was in elementary school, someone stole my bike. When it turned up eventually, it was in bad shape. I was heartbroken. I had worked hard for the money to purchase it, and it was my primary means of transportation. All those hours of mowing lawns and shoveling snow went to waste in an instant. Even worse, I had lost the ability to get around as I pleased.

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“Behold, I make all things new!” (Rv 21:5)

Liturgical day
Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 2016
Readings
Gn 3:9-20, Ps 98, Eph 1:3-12, Lk 1:26-38
Prayer

How have you let God re-create you?
How do you remain aware of grace? 
How can you sharpen and deepen that awareness?

I was lucky, though. My father is a skilled mechanic, and he saw in my ruined bicycle an opportunity to enjoy some time at his tool bench. He replaced missing parts, straightened the frame, re-sealed the tires and even installed new cables for the brakes. Within a week, I was the owner of a bike many times better than the one I had lost. It held together through several more years of use and hangs in his garage to this very day.

Today’s feast tells a similar story about human nature. God’s response to the profound damage of human nature, as the Second Vatican Council’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” explains (No. 56), was to re-create humanity into something new, starting with the mother of his Son. In his gifts to Mary, God not only preserved her from sin but adorned her with a holiness never before seen among humans.

Our readings today trace a theological drama that results in our salvation. The crisis that drives the action is the sin of Adam and Eve, which corrupted not just their own nature, but that of subsequent generations as well. This provides the dramatic tension, since God’s intent was for humans to be part of the divine family. God never ceased to create, and as St. Paul points out, God’s intent for human beings was that they be “holy and without blemish before him.” This is the divine will foreshadowed first in Mary, and then fulfilled in Christ through the ministry of the church.

The key to the church’s understanding of this belief is a word in the angel’s greeting to Mary, the Greek expression kecharitomene. The term has a wide range of meanings, but the Latin translation St. Jerome gave to it, gratia plena, “full of grace,” has in the mind of the church always been the most apt. Grace is the presence of God. Mary knew that presence at all times and revealed it to those around her. The angel’s greeting implied that the theological drama of sin and salvation was reaching its climax. Because of a special intervention, Mary enjoyed during her life the full awareness of God’s presence that the rest of us encounter only gradually through discipleship in Christ.

Today’s feast calls us to live lives “full of grace.” At our baptism, we received the same capacity for grace that Mary received at her conception. Unlike Mary, we struggle to remain graced, fully aware of God’s presence and able to reveal it clearly to others. Nonetheless, God remains at work in us, transforming our destructive inclinations, undoing the damage we have inflicted on ourselves, and healing the injury we have caused others. When we trust the action of grace in our lives, God will, over time, craft for us a life many times better than any we left behind. Mary’s life reminds us of that today. As she did, let us trust the presence of God to build in us lives full of grace.

Stan Blackburn
6 days 23 hours ago

I love this grace-filled reflection, Fr. Mike. I am that broken bike, rescued but still on the Father's workbench. And I'll be there for some time. Peace.

Emily Ransom
5 days 19 hours ago

Honest question here, from an adult convert who really wants to understand and finds it a struggle: How does the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception deliver that hope to our broken humanity? It seems to suggest that Christ needed an unbroken humanity to work with. In relation to the analogy in the article, it seems to be as if your dad bought a new flawless bike for you, insisting that your broken bike could become what the unbroken one was, even if the unbroken one never had to get there through the abuse the broken one experienced. Christian hope insists it can, of course, but from the perspective of my Protestant background it seems that the plot twist of the Immaculate Conception makes the example of Mary inapplicable to my brokenness.
Again, asking from a genuine desire to understand.

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