Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sin Free


“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is perhaps one of the more misunderstood feast days in the Church today. When we regularly refer to the “Immaculate Conception” many people will explain that this feast is about the fact that Jesus was conceived without sin. Of course, this is not a feast of Jesus, but of the Blessed Mother. It celebrates the fact that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother Anne.

This dogma of Mary was proclaimed more than 150 years ago by Pope Pius 9th in 1854. The feast itself is, of course, even older than the proclamation. It has been celebrated in the Franciscan Order since 1263; and was adopted by Rome in 1477, by Pope Sixtus IV, himself a Franciscan. And the belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception dates back to the earliest days of the Church. But, the feast takes on added importance for us today. Every nation is under the patronage of a saint. The United States is under the patronage of Mary under her title as the Immaculate Conception and so for us this is also our nation’s feast day.

So, why is this day so important to us in the Church? Quite simply, it reminds us of what our faith is all about; what the goal of our believing leads us to. A few years back, I had the opportunity to preach at the celebration of First Reconciliation for our young people. During the service, I brought the kinds forward to the sanctuary, and sat them all down. First I asked if any of them were nervous about making their first confession. Some raised their hands and said they were worried they would forget what to say, or they didn't know what the priest would say. Then I asked if any of them were excited about making their first confession. Wonderfully several hands went up. I asked one little girl why she was excited to make her first confession. She said boldly and proudly, “Because today, Father, I get to be sin free.” I get to be sin free. Isn’t that the most wonderful statement – and from a child! Since that moment, I've thought I'd like to have t-shirts made up that say that and I'll hand them out after every confession.

But, this is exactly what Mary reminds us about today. Another word for sin-free is holy. We are all called to be holy people; to make our way back to God; to be united with Him. We do this by trying to overcome the sin in our life every day. And, if you're thinking, “I can't do that. That's too difficult.” You're right! We can't do that on our own. Mary's sinlessness is not something that she achieved by her own power. Rather, it is a gift from God given to her at the very moment of her conception in the womb of her mother Anne.

That's a good reminder for all of us today. When we are without sin, in a state of grace, or when we are doing better on our road to holiness, it is not an achievement of our own greatness and power - it too is a gift from God. We can overcome our sin - with God's help; and only with God's help. We overcome our sin by prayer; by meditating on Scripture; by spending time before the Blessed Sacrament; by praying the Rosary; and pre-eminently by going to Confession regularly and then receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in a worthy manner.

If our Advent season is about preparing for the Birth of Jesus into the world, then this action of making sure Mary did not carry the stain of original sin was in effect, God's advent, God’s preparation, for the birth of His Son. God prepared Mary so that she would be worthy to carry the Savior of the World. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception tells us something about who Mary is. But maybe it tells us more about who God is and who we are in light of God's incredible love.

Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is belief in a provident God - a God who provides for the future, who prepares His children for their assigned task in life even before they are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the natural and supernatural qualities we need to play our assigned role in the drama of human salvation. God does not just throw us into this worldwide wilderness and then leave us to fight it out among ourselves. He helps us to desire and even achieve holiness when we cooperate with Him.

Let us today be inspired by the example of Mary; and by the loving Providence of our God. Let us strive to hear the angel say the same words to us, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”

May we be blessed through Mary's intercession and may God give you peace.

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