On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Mary teaches us about perfect freedom
A Reflection for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
You can find today’s readings here.
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
A blank sheet of paper. Every person I know panics when they are presented with one. In fact, it is the abiding reaction I have every time I am asked to prepare a text, be it an essay, a homily, a letter to a friend or a spiritual reflection like this one. You might say it’s an occupational hazard for a writer, which I on paper, at least, consider myself to be. And yet, when I overcome my fear and insecurity—Who am I kidding? More like when the deadline is looming, and I don’t have time to think about the end product, because I just need to get words on the page and get it done—procrastination halts, confidence builds and the piece writes itself. It does not matter how much I’ve written, or how often. This is what happens every time.
This very stressful and discombobulating process rehearses itself, as I sit down to write for this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the highest level of all the feasts our church has to offer. What am I to do? I have no idea what this feast is really about. Do I even understand or believe it completely? And then inspiration lands, and I recognize a familiarity in my process that echoes the words of another in today’s Gospel: “How can this be…?” This can’t be happening to me. It makes no sense. How can I be pregnant “since I have no relations with a man?” And then all of a sudden there is a surrender that calms the fear. Mary, realizing this is indeed the voice of God speaking through the angel Gabriel, realizes that it is already done and that God is calling her to live her life in a very absolute and concrete way, and she embraces it: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
May it be done unto us according to God’s will. Bring it on!
At this point you may be thinking, rightly: “He has got this all wrong. He is preaching on the wrong feast. This is not the feast where we remember the angel Gabriel announcing the imminent birth of Jesus and Mary’s, “Yes.” This is the one about Mary, being born without sin. He needs to get back on the page.” Or you may just be thinking: “What is he going on about?”
Well, here’s the deal.
Mary’s “yes” to being the mother of God is only possible because of her Immaculate Conception. It is because she is created as a person with perfect freedom, not giving in to the sin of her selfish temptations and desire to preserve herself and the life that she had planned for herself, that she can accept the most daunting task of her life. Mary doesn’t let her ego get in the way. Instead, she turns immediately to the task at hand. She accepts what she is being asked because she knows that the goodness of God is imbued in her flesh and blood. She trusts in the plans God has for her and not in the fears she feels about what is to come. Put in a somewhat more crude way: The follow-up to her “How can this be?”—which might better be rendered today as “WTF?”—was much more aggressive than we might conjure when we read her response, “May it be done to me according to your word.” Rather, it seems to me that the answer she gave God through Gabriel was more like “Thank you, Jesus. Bring it on!”
And it is Mary’s “yes” that has given me the confidence to write this, to believe that I, too, am created free by God and for a clear purpose. Were it not for her example, I would still have a blank sheet of paper in front of me. I would keep procrastinating and worrying about how this whole thing would turn out. But I know that this is how God speaks to me, in the song of words, and I believe and pray that through my own small “yes,” in writing this, that you, too, might believe in yours.
May it be done unto us according to God’s will. Bring it on!
Get to know Ricardo da Silva, S.J., associate editor
Favorite Advent or Christmas themed art?
This time of year is filled with so much art, it’s difficult to choose. I think last year, I might have said it was “My Soul in Stillness Waits”. And for some reason this beautiful song is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Advent. But, thinking about this day, the song that springs to mind is “Gabriel’s Message” (which some may argue is more appropriate to the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord) and here it is performed by the vocal ensemble Chanticleer, whom I had the pleasure of listening to live a few days ago.
Favorite Christmas tradition?
Visiting someone who might have been forgotten, to sing for them, bring them Communion, serve them a warm meal. It’s hardly a tradition (though I wish it was) but my most meaningful Christmases started out as a caroler in an oncology ward or in a women’s prison, bringing community to a terminally-ill teenager or serving food to people living on the streets.
Which project are you most proud to have worked on this year at America?
It’s too good a promotion opportunity to miss, so here’s a shameless plug: “Hark! The stories behind our favorite Christmas carols,” and the latest episode is probably my favorite so far. And while I’m at it, have you watched “Think Like a Jesuit” and “People of God: A portrait of Catholic parish life in the United States”?
Favorite Christmas recipe?
This one never changes, so I’ve self-plagiarized from my reflection last year.
The Portuguese celebrate the nativity on Christmas Eve much more than Christmas Day. And though the traditional meal is decidedly unappealing, for me “Bacalhau da Consoada de Natal” brims with nostalgia. It is an entirely boiled dish of salt cod, cabbage, carrots, potato and eggs, topped with generous glugs of olive oil and vinegar.
Favorite Christmas photo?
On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, where we commemorate Mary, the perfect model of the Christian life, who is also the Queen of all the saints and the mother of our Savior, I remember the one who gave me life, the queen of my heart, my dearest mother.