Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary – 08 November
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is the doctrine that the Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin, that twist in our nature that makes our will tend not to follow what it knows to be right. It was this grace that enabled Mary to give a true and considered “Yes” to the request, conveyed by the Angel Gabriel, that she should consent to be the mother of the incarnate God.
The doctrine was almost universally believed over the centuries but was only formally defined as a doctrine of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Because it is so old, it is one of the Marian doctrines that Islam shares with the Catholic Church, though of course the theological details are very different.
Holy Father’s address before the recitation of the Angelus on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception
(08 Dec 2016)
Dear Brothers and Sisters, happy feast day! The Readings, of today’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, present two crucial passages in the history of relations between man and God: we could say that they lead us to the origin of good and evil. These two passages lead us to the origin of good and evil.
The Book of Genesis shows us the first No, the No of the origins, the human No, when man preferred to look at himself rather than at his Creator; he wanted to be his own head, he chose to suffice unto himself. However, in so doing, removing himself from communion with God, he in fact lost himself and began to have fear, hiding himself and accusing the one close to him (cf. Genesis 3:10.12). These are the symptoms: fear is always a symptom of a No to God; it indicates that I am saying No to God. To accuse others and not look at oneself indicates that I am distancing myself from God. This constitutes sin. However, the Lord did not leave man at the mercy of his evil; He sought him immediately and asked him a question full of apprehension: “Where are you?” (v. 9). As if He were saying: “Stop, think: where are you?” It is the question of a father or a mother who seeks a lost son: “Where are you? In what situation have you ended up?” And God does this with so much patience, until closing the distance created at the origins. This is one of the passages.
The second crucial passage, recounted today in the Gospel, is when God comes to dwell among us, He makes Himself man like us. And this was possible through a great Yes, that of sin was a No; this is a Yes, Mary’s is a great Yes at the moment of the Annunciation. Because of this Yes, Jesus began His journey on the ways of humanity; He began it in Mary, spending his first months of life in the womb of His Mother: He did not appear already as an adult and strong, but followed the whole course of a human being. He made Himself the same as us in everything, except one thing, that No, except sin. Therefore, He chose Mary, the only creature without sin, immaculate. With just one word in the Gospel, she is said to be “full of grace” (Luke 1:28), namely, brimming with grace. It means that in her, immediately full of grace, there was no room for sin. And, when we turn to her, we also recognize this beauty: we invoke her “full of grace,” without the shade of evil.
Mary responds to God’s proposal saying: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (v. 38). She does not say: “Huh, this time I will do God’s will, I’ll make myself available, then I’ll see …” No, hers is a full Yes, total, for the whole of life, without conditions. And as the No of the origins closed man’s passage to God, so Mary’s Yes opened the way to God among us. It is the most important Yes in history, the humble Yes that overturns the arrogant No of the origins, the faithful Yes that heals the disobedience; the willing Yes that overturns the egoism of sin.
For each of us, there is also a history of salvation made up of Yeses and Noes to God. Sometimes, however, we are experts in half Yeses: we are good at feigning that we do not understand what God would like and our conscience suggests to us. We are also crafty, and in order not to say a true and proper No to God, we say: “I’m sorry, I can’t,” “not today, but tomorrow”; “Tomorrow I’ll be better, tomorrow I’ll pray, I’ll do good, tomorrow.” And this craftiness distances us from the Yes, it distances us from God and leads us to the No, to the No of sin, to the No of mediocrity. The famous “Yes, but …”; “Yes, Lord, but …” But in doing so, we close the door to the good, and evil benefits from these wanting Yeses. Each one of us has a collection of these inside. Let us think about it and we will find so many missed Yeses. Instead, every full Yes to God gives origin to a new history: to say Yes to God is truly “original,” is origin, not sin, which makes us old inside. Have you thought of this? That sin makes us old inside? It makes us old quickly! Every Yes to God originates histories of salvation for us and for others – like Mary with her own Yes.
In this Advent journey, God wishes to visit us and He waits for our Yes. Let us think: I, today, what Yes must I say to God? Let us think about it, it will do us good. And we will find the voice of the Lord within God, who asks us something, a step forward. “I believe in You, I hope in You, I love You. May your good will be done in me.” This is a Yes. With generosity and trust, like Mary, let each one of us say today this personal ‘Yes’ to God.