Monday, December 7, 2009
Follow in your Mother's footsteps
A woman was having a very busy day at home. With many children, every day was hectic. On this particular day, however, she was having trouble doing even routine chores - all because of one little boy. Kenny, was three at the time, and was on his mother’s heels no matter where she went. Whenever she stopped to do something and turned back around, she would trip over him. Several times, she patiently suggested fun activities to keep him occupied. “Wouldn’t you like to play outside?” she would ask. But he simply smiled an innocent smile and said, “That’s all right, Mommy. I’d rather be in here with you.” Then he continued to bounce happily along behind her. After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, the young mother began to lose her patience and insisted that he go outside and play with the other children. When she asked Kenny why he was acting this way, he looked up at her and said, “Well, Mommy, in school my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Him, so I’m walking in yours.”
“The angel said to (Mary), ‘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. 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, not Jesus, 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. 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 young people. During the service, I brought the kids 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 to them. 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! 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. She reminds us that we all have been invited to be sin-free. Another word for sin-free is holy. We are all called to be holy people; to eliminate those things that distance us from 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 be sin-free on our own. And it was the same for Mary. Her sinlessness is not something that she achieved by her own power or merit. Rather, it was 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. We would do well to be like young Kenny and follow in the footsteps of our Blessed Mother striving to follow the example of Christ, so perfectly exemplified in her life.
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 loving Providence of our God and by the example of Mary; let us follow in her footsteps. Let us strive to live a life worthy of the same angelic message that was given to Mary, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”
May God give you peace!