The Immaculate Conception of Mary is essential for our daily life and we don’t necessarily see it or use it. Why would the Church proclaim something that is not useful for us? Therefore, a clever attitude would be to dig deeper in order to understand the real daily use of a “Dogma”.
In fact, the “Immaculate Conception” is not a Dogma about Mary only. It is a fundamental element in our “Spiritual Life”. How that?
At the Cross, Jesus gives us Mary (see John 19:26-27), this means that this privilege of Mary has benefits for us, since Mary "belongs to us". In fact, we know that Mary, in the Annunciation and throughout her life said “yes” to God, for herself and for each one of us. (“She uttered her yes "in the name of all human nature". By her obedience she became the new Eve, mother of the living” (Catechism 511))
“Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (Catechism 491)
The huge gap that lays between Mary and each one of us is not only at the level of her Conception (from the first moment of her conception she is preserved immune from all stain of original sin) but at the level of its practical consequences: being able to believe. The insistence in the Gospel on the “faith of Mary” versus our “lack of faith” (or better said our “incapacity to believe”) is something really staggering.
Earlier on in his Gospel, saint Luke presents us two annunciations, one that “didn’t work”, and one that did. One was unfruitful (Zachariah didn’t believe) and the other one was fruitful (Mary did believe).
The parallelism is done on purpose, and is very powerful: it is meant as well to be the Portal of his Gospel. The conclusion of this asymmetrical presentation of the “capacity to believe” reaches its high peak when Mary and Elisabeth meet. Not Zachariah this time, but his wife, has a very deep dialogue with Mary where she’ll utter central truths for us who are seeking to believe:
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil what has been said to her!” (Luke 1:45)
|The one who believed visits the one who didn't believe|
The Lord said things to Zachariah, he didn’t believe.
The lord said things to Mary, and she believed.
Not only that, but Mary brings us the light of her Faith, and offers it to us: see how she doesn’t remain with the Grace of God she has, on the contrary, she visits her Cousin Elisabeth, and visits each one of us, at home. This is why Mary will utter this very unusual self-praise: “From now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). All the generations will receive her visit, will draw from her unique immaculate faith the capacity to believe. This is not something to be taken lightly!
So, as we see: 1- we notice the huge gap between her capacity and ours. 2- this gap is closed by the fact that the “grace” and “privilege” she received are as well offered to us.
Does Jesus speak about these essential truths? Well yes, but in a semi-hidden way, because it is a “secret”. Why does he “hide” these essential truths? He doesn’t want to give the Pearls to the swine: “though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.” (Luke 8:10) One has really to want it, to ask for it, to seek it humbly but with full desire.
In order to understand better the “Immaculate Conception of Mary” let us have a look at the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13, Mk 4, Lk 8). This parable is the key parable, in the sense that if we don’t understand it, we won’t understand any parable: “Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (Mk 4:13).
This parable analyses the earths: i.e. “our way or receiving” the Word of God, our way of BELIEVING. It doesn’t discuss anything about God Himself, on the contrary, it addresses the human being and his capacity to receive the Word of God and bare fruits. Its goal is to show us how our ways of dealing with God are too short, and don’t reach fruition and that we need to adopt the way of the “Good Earth”: Mary.
In that fundamental parable, Jesus offers us 4 different “earths” (read: “4 ways of believing”) and studies them carefully. The striking thing is that only one earth is capable of bearing fruits (fully believing): the fourth earth, also called the “Good earth”.
Remember: “liturgy” is the way the faithful, throughout the ages, express their own faith. Paying attention to the contents of the Liturgy can bring us precious information about our faith. In the liturgical tradition of the Church (the Maronite and Byzantine rites at least), Mary is called the “Good earth”, the “Earth in which God sowed His Divine Seed: the Son”.
Let us come back to the Parable of the Sower: We can then explore safely the avenue of considering Mary as the “Good earth”.
Remember, for “the act of believing”, the red line between “bearing fruits” and “not bearing fruits” is fundamental. What is the point of starting to believe and reaching completion?
It is a way as well of understanding the “fullness of Grace” that characterises Mary: being “full of grace” allows her to bear fruits, to believe. Only God dwells in the “FULL-of-Grace”, only God acts in her, and His action doesn’t find in her any obstacle, and therefore she can bare fruits.
Now, can we really receive Mary in our heart, in our life, and make use of her own faith?
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus sums up all what we said, and brings it to a genius completion when she said:
“I am not shaken when I see my weakness
The treasure of the Mother belongs to the son/daughter
And I am your daughter, oh my dear mother
Your virtues, your love, aren’t they mine?
Therefore when in my heart will descend the white Host
Jesus, my Sweet Lamb, thinks he reposes in you!...” (Poem 54,5)
You may say to Mary: your faith Mary is mine, therefore I believe not with/through my weak faith, but wit your own faith.
This is why Pope John Paul II said in His Encyclical letter on Mary (Redemptoris Mater RM) mentions the fact that we are called to participate to Mary’s faith (see RM 27) and has this other genius affirmation: “Mary's faith […] in some way continues to become the faith of the pilgrim People of God” (RM 28).
This short text on the understanding and use of the Immaculate Conception is worth being read few times, in order to receive all it’s rich contents.
Re-read, ponder, wonder...
ask, receive and then ACT...
(Continuation, see next post...)