By David Cooley.
The Immaculate Conception is a beautiful solemnity that the Church celebrates each year on December 8. On this day we commemorate the fact that Mary was graced with sinless perfection from the first instant of her existence, in view of the merits of her son Jesus Christ, in light of her predestination to be his Mother. It’s rather fitting that this feast day takes place in the season of Advent, because during that season the mind and heart of the Church are drawing us in to ponder the Blessed Mother.
We first meet Mary not as the Queen of Heaven that she was destined to become, but as a young, meek virgin in the early chapters of the Gospel of Luke. While Scripture doesn’t say it explicitly, it’s fair to assume that she was a very young girl with hopes and dreams of her own. But, one thing we do know for sure is that she was completely devoted to God and her faith was her most prized possession. When it was made clear to her that God’s will was different from her own plans, she doesn’t hesitate. Mary has nothing to offer the Lord but herself; he asks for nothing else, and she holds nothing back.
This year we can all relate to having to let go of our plans. I remember at this time last year, and even earlier, I was making lots of grand plans for 2020. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do at the time. But, of course, looking back now, it’s hard not to laugh a very non-humorous laugh at that. Now, right before the big holiday season, things are getting grim again and even more plans will be falling through. Perhaps we are on the verge of a long, dark winter. In some ways the early sunsets and the frigid air seem more painful this year than ever before.
Yet, this can be a moment of grace for us, too. We must realize that we are not in control and that we are anxiously waiting. We are waiting for this pandemic to be over. We are waiting to hug our family and friends again. We are waiting for the spring of new life. We are waiting for things to just be better. But, most importantly, we are waiting for our Lord. You see, we are not much different than ancient Israel. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that there will be signs, and that God is with us.
Mary was waiting for the Messiah long before the annunciation. But after the angel visited her she actually carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. That’s hard to imagine. Ask any first-time mother what those nine months are like and they’ll tell you it’s nerve-racking. Yes there is excitement, but it’s hindered by anxieties and an almost unbearable anticipation of an uncertain future. You wait and you wait for someone you can’t see but you know is there. And yet this waiting is not idle; there is a lot to be done.
Those nine months for Mary were not idle either. On par with her character, she doesn’t focus on her own needs at all, but goes with haste to the hill country because her elderly cousin is pregnant and might be in need of help. In many ways this symbolizes the idea that while we are all waiting for something great — the kingdom of God — it is, at the same time, already here.
For us, Advent is a season of contemplation, humility, silence and growth. If we practice these virtues in the way that was shown to us by Our Lady, our experience will be like hers. If Christ is growing in us and we pray without ceasing, we will be at peace because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it Jesus is forming himself. We must align our will with his and go “in haste” to wherever our circumstances compel us. Why? Because that’s where he wants us to be; more to the point, that’s where he wants to be.
The ancient Israelites were God’s people, called to be intimate with God and obedient to his law. Mary, the daughter of Zion — the Immaculate Conception — is the fullest expression of intimacy with the Lord. When we prepare ourselves properly and unite our will with God’s will, we, too, share an intimate union with the Lord — even as we await his coming. Advent is our graced time of preparation. This year, no matter how dark things get or how alone we feel, let us stand firm contemplating the coming of the Lord; let us remain meek and humble; let us search for answers in the silence of prayer; and let the love of Christ grow within us so much so that when we go out into the world others will be stirred by his presence.
Bishop Roger Foys will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, at 10 a.m. The Mass will be live-streamed for those viewing at home, and can be found at covcathedral.com.