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Immaculate Conception 2018

In the midst of uncertain times – when things are changing and we don’t know how they will turn out; when we feel stuck in an situation without options and no apparent ability to change our situation, our human tendency, which is a result of original sin is 1) to be afraid, and 2) to try to control the situation by taking matters into our own hands. The fruit of original sin is to distrust reality – to think things are against us – that the world and God himself has a hostility against us. This position of doubt and skepticism sows discord in us and division within the human family. We see this in Adam who, after committing the sin, was afraid of God and becomes divided from his wife – blaming her for his problem.

Our experience reveals to us how this original sin is no ancient myth but a wound in us that needs healing. I see this tendency in myself as a new pastor in a situation that at times feels overwhelming – that seems impossible and in many respects is beyond my skill-set. It is easy to blame others for our problems and think the solution is just better management and control. There is the temptation to think that things will be better or “saved” if I reign reality into my plan – conform the reality I’m given to my vision of things. Or that when reality changes the playing field, that somehow I have to keep things operating “the way we’ve always done it.” Neither way is “realistic”. Neither option will save us.

The Immaculate Conception reminds us that our salvation is wholly God’s work – but that it happens within human history. It is fully grace – a total gift, but we have to say “yes” freely to that gift in order to cooperate with God’s plan and to accept his proposal and receive salvation. The proposal comes to each of us in our particular history, and it comes in a way that follows the pattern of the Annunciation. We are invited to accept a proposal that is beyond our measure.

The Mystery of salvation is proposed to us in the form of a contradiction – through something that doesn’t make sense or seems impossible. For Mary, it would be that she would be both virgen and mother. The other aspect of the divine proposal is that Mary really isn’t given a choice. She is not asked, “Would you like to be the Mother of God?” Rather, she is told what will happen to her: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” Mary freely chooses something – gives her total yes to something – in which she is not given an option. Mary’s “How can this be” is not an expression of doubt or skepticism but an expression of wonder in front of the mystery. Her “yes” – her “fiat” – “may it be done to me” expresses her desire and her eagerness to see how God will bring this about. She is not demanding an explanation but setting off on an adventure with the certainty that “nothing will be impossible for God.” This is the grace of the Immaculate Conception – what makes Mary totally free in this situation – that she is not attached one bit to herself and her own plan.

The original sin is seeking the fulfillment of our desire to be like God, but trying to do it without God. The desire to be like God is not the problem – this desire is in fact given to us from God and is good; but the mystery is that I’m given a desire that I cannot fulfill on my own. It is something beyond my measure. To reduce it to my measure is to say “no” to God. This is our constant temptation: to think the desire for the infinite is bad and try to suppress it or to try to satisfy it with something other than God – something of our measure. The sin is to try to grasp for myself what can only be given by God. This is what is undone through Mary’s “yes”. She allows what is proposed to be done to her; she in fact invites it – welcomes the proposal.

The mystery comes in this surprising way so that we seek Him – so that we accept our incapacity to accomplish by our own power what we desire and instead entrust ourselves to a greater measure. St. Paul describes it this way: “In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will…”

We need Mary’s constant intercession to remind us of what happened to us in our baptism – that we were chosen by God, adopted by God, and brought into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. In the face of the mystery of the Cross, we must ask to receive God’s blessing and the forgiveness of our sins, so we can be in the state to say “yes” to God’s grace and plan – so that we are not afraid of the mysterious circumstances proposed to us. This is how we let the grace of Christ enter our lives – how something that seems impossible becomes something that saves us. Ask Mary to help you to make a good confession this Advent, so we all may be servants of the Mystery who welcome the proposal of God and in turn invite others to join us on the adventure. In the face of our uncertainties, ask that Mary’s “yes” becomes yours. This is the way to heal divisions in families, grow in grace, and live without fear. It is a lie of the evil one that reality and God are against us. Mary wasn’t “in control”. We don’t have to be either. We just have to say “yes” to God’s plan. It is only with Mary’s intercession and by uniting ourselves to her that we can engage reality with all our selves and trust in the Lord’s promises, that the good and surprising thing that he has begun in us, he will bring to completion.

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