Today the Church celebrates a mysterious and miraculous event of such importance to God’s plan for our salvation in Christ that it happened in a manner that went virtually undetected.
This event is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not to be confused with another mysterious and miraculous event, the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus, the Immaculate Conception is about how God acted in an extraordinary way in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that from even the first moment of her own conception, she was rescued from the power of original sin.
What does this even mean?
Original sin is a fact of our existence, a sad fact, that characterizes the human condition. It darkens our intellect, distorts our imagination, and positions our will so as to be susceptible to sin. We are born this way and cannot of our own efforts remedy this situation. Because of original sin, the inclination towards sin is a part of who we are from the very beginning—from the first moment of our own conception. This inclination towards sin effects us physically, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually. For this reason, original sin is referred to as a condition of human existence.
Sin is our refusal of God and our refusals of God, are manifested in the ease at which we prove ourselves to be unwilling to love. It is in our refusals to love that we see the great indicator of original sin as an oppressive and terrible condition.
God has a plan through which he deals with original sin. This plan unfolds in the scriptures and culminates in the revelation of Christ the Lord. When we speak of Christ “saving us” or refer to Christ as our redeemer, what he is saving us from and delivering us from is original sin and its effects.
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is part of God’s plan. Christ, who receives his human flesh from his mother, receives this flesh from a person who, by a singular gift from God, herself comes into this world without original sin.
This exemption is God’s gift to the woman who would freely choose to be his mother. The gift highlights the extraordinary nature of the mission of the Mother of God- no one would even have the relationship God in Christ has to the Blessed Virgin Mary. No one will ever be the Mother of God except the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Some might be inclined to think that something like the Immaculate Conception made things much easier for the Mother of God, and in this regard, I think such folks would be mistaken. The Immaculate Conception was not a kind of decorative accessory, but a reality that would be essential for the Mother of God to fulfill her mission. It would express itself in a capacity to love that would have far exceeded our own. And this would not have made things easy.
The Mother of God was an Immaculate Conception in a sin-filled world. Those whom she loved suffered from the effects of original sin and her exemption would not have made her cold and aloof, but would have quickened her to life with a deep compassion that would have cut into her heart.
She would have been to this world a sign of contradiction, a stranger, someone who would have always been on the peripheries, deeply in love, but beset with grief at how much God’s love is refused in a fallen world.
Whatever we feel at the effects of the world’s refusal to love, would have been intensified for Christ’s mother. She would know, better than us, humanity’s desperate need for a Savior and the consequences of our refusals of God would have been overwhelming, if not for the grace that she received in her relationship with her Divine Son.
The Immaculate Conception does not mean that Christ’s Mother did not need a Savior or that she somehow saved herself. In fact, it means the opposite. Christ saved her in an extraordinary way and gave her a holiness that she did not achieve for herself. He did this for her, for the sake of her mission- a mission that only she would bear. This gift of holiness is what the Immaculate Conception is all about.
The Immaculate Conception is not something easy, it is mysterious and miraculous, but is nevertheless a beautiful and extraordinary gift—a gift through which God in Christ acted to save his Mother, and us, from our sins, from all our refusals to love.