The Immaculate Conception introduces into the world a possibility that otherwise would have remained literally “inconceivable.”
December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the Patronal Feast day of the United States. This glorious holy day marks the conception of Our Lady in the womb of her mother St. Anne. At her conception, Mary was miraculously preserved from all stain of sin so that God might do two key things: Prepare in Mary a worthy Mother for God’s Son, and also signify to the world the beginning of the Church, with all its healing and saving power.
That the Immaculate Conception is a holy day of obligation signals just how crucial this feast truly is. But why exactly is it so important for us?
Start with the first reading for the Mass of the Immaculate Conception. Do so keeping in mind both senses of the word “conception”: (1) conception as a biological event leading to birth; (2) conception as an idea that takes hold of our mind and affects the way we act.
How did the serpent succeed?
As we read about Adam and Eve being tempted in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:9-15, 20), we have to ask: How was the serpent able to tempt our First Parents to the Original Sin? And the answer is: By way of a conception. The serpent seduces them with an idea—a conception—that went something like this: God knows that the moment you eat the fruit of the forbidden tree your eyes will be opened and you will be like God. What do you want: your life here in Eden or to be like God?
Notice how the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about this cataclysmic crime. It speaks of Adam and Eve becoming afraid of God “of whom they have conceived a distorted image” (CCC 399). Humanity is done in at the beginning by a diabolical conception!
But God, in his transcendent sense of humor, overturns this devastating disobedience in the very same way it comes about: by presenting a “conception” of his own that restores humanity’s lost friendship with God and leads us back to Paradise—Mary the Immaculate Conception.
Everything in life depends on how we conceive of things.
Everything in life depends on how we conceive of things. And the evil one knows how tempted we are to live in our heads, and to make our ideas into idols. So in order to get us back to Eden, God counteracts the conception of Satan by presenting us with a new Conception to give in to. But this new Conception is NOT a notion or an idea or a thought or some mental construct. No. The Immaculate Conception is a person for us to embrace. The Immaculate Conception keeps us from defying God and deifying us.
Mary the Immaculate Conception is the way that God conceives of his own goodness, beauty, tenderness, holiness, justice, and love … all of which he wants to give to us so that WE CAN become like God. That’s God’s own desire for us! Mary the Immaculate Conception restores for us the proper way to conceive of God. With Our Lady in our life, when we get tempted by the evil conceptions of Satan, we can turn instead to the Immaculate Conception—our Mother!—to regain the right regard and peace we need.
But this cannot happen if we cut ourselves off from God, which Adam and Eve did when they succumbed to the serpent’s conception. We are called to enter into a relationship of devotion with God’s Immaculate Conception—who wonderfully is our Mother. So it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.
An inconceivable possibility
And then everything changes, especially the discouragement and gloominess, the desolation and doubt … the despondency in our lives. The Immaculate Conception introduces into the world a possibility that otherwise would have remained literally “inconceivable.”
Here’s an example of what I mean. I remember watching an awesome documentary about World War II. When it got to the part about the D-Day invasion of Normandy, it made the point that — prior to the massive naval invasion — the assault was already being carried out from the air. In the middle of the night, more than 23,000 Allied troops dropped into Normandy either via glider or by parachute.
These airmen took up their position in the French countryside. They knew that the beach invasion was scheduled to take place that day. But they did not know if it would be a success. And if it was NOT a success, then they would be trapped … doomed. Cut off and defenseless as they were, the enemy would capture or kill them. As one soldier recalled: “If the beach didn’t hold, we would be left there, we would be abandoned—they wouldn’t be able to get us out.”
But then hope exploded. For from their hiding places in the woods, they spotted an Allied Sherman tank rumbling down the road. And in that instant they grasped that the invasion had been successful and that the enemy would be routed. Victory was coming! As that same soldier relates: “When that first tank came through, I knew that the beach had held, and I knew that help was on the way.”
This is the day to claim the triumph of hope! We are not cut off or abandoned.
The Immaculate Conception is like that Sherman tank! From our dark hiding places of sin, of fear, of affliction, of helplessness, as we look out on this glorious day, we see coming to us one who is God’s Immaculate sign that liberation is real … that the enemy has been routed … that the tyranny of death and destruction is over … that conquest is ours … that the ultimate victory is coming! This is the day to claim the triumph of hope! We are not cut off or abandoned. Heaven has come to our rescue in the form of an Immaculate Mother. This is the day to proclaim — hearts bursting with faith, hope and love — that divine help is on the way!
Today’s feast is an invitation to abandon our crippling preconceptions and to surrender to God’s Immaculate Conception, who is a radiant Mother gazing at us with eyes of love. When we give in to this New Eve, there is no worry that she will hand us some forbidden fruit. But all the same, it does remain Mary’s ardent desire to give us fruit—the Fruit of her womb, Jesus.
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