Saturday December 8, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Reading I(Genesis 3:9-15,20) Reading II(Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12)
Gospel (St. Luke 1:26-38)
Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a feast which causes confusion for people; confusion because they usually get wrong the person who was conceived. This is not the day that Jesus was conceived in the womb of His Virgin Mother Mary, even though the Gospel reading that we heard today was the conception of Jesus (the primary reason for using that Gospel reading is because of the angelís greeting and the reality of what took place within Our Lady.) The angel called Mary "Full of Grace", and the point of that is to show that she does not have any stain of sin at all. She is full of grace. So todayís celebration is the celebration of the day that Our Blessed Lady was conceived in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne. She was conceived without stain, (that is what the word immaculate means "without stain") and so without the stain of original sin.
In the first reading we heard about that original sin, the disobedience of Adam and of Eve. We hear about the serpent who had tricked Eve into eating the fruit of which Adam and Eve had been forbidden to eat. Then we hear that beautiful verse that is called the Protoevangelium, the first Gospel Genesis 3:15. It is the first time that a promise was made to humanity that there would be a Savior, and it happened immediately after they sinned. It is that beautiful verse, "I will put enmity between you and the Woman, between your offspring and hers. She will crush your head, you will nip at his heel."
We see that the serpentís head has indeed been crushed by Our Blessed Lady. When we consider what has happened to each and every one of us because of that sin; it has been passed down from Adam through generation or through inheritance to each one of us, with the exception, the sole exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That is why we celebrate in a particular way this Feast, because she is the only person ever in the history of humanity to be conceived without original sin. Jesus, of course, is without original sin, but He is God. Mary is a human person just like each one of us. She should have been conceived with original sin according to nature, but God spared her that. What He had done was to take the grace of Our Lord that He was going to win for us on the Cross and apply it to His Mother prior to her conception. Even though it would probably be somewhere between forty-five and fifty years earlier than Jesus would die upon the Cross, nonetheless this was applied to Our Blessed Lady in order to prepare a fitting place for Our Lordís birth, a place for the beginning of His human life within His sinless Mother. And while this is indeed for that particular reason, it is also something for each one of us to be able to rejoice in because while Our Lady is the mother of Our Lord, she is the mother of each person who is incorporated into Our Lord.
She is our mother as well, and how much glory we should give to God because of the mother He has given to each one of us. We glory in our natural mothers, how much more should we glory in our spiritual mother. We hear that Adam called his wife Eve because she became the mother of all the living, but Our Lady is the new Eve. She is the mother of all those who are alive in Jesus Christ. So we rejoice that God has prepared for each one of us a mother who is without stain. A mother whose love is absolutely perfect. That is something that is almost incomprehensible for us. For most of us, God has provided a very good mother on the natural level. When we look at the love of that wonderful woman that God has given to us, we cannot imagine how a human being can love that much. Now consider the heart of a mother without sin; the heart of a mother who can love perfectly; the heart of a mother who is absolutely full of grace. Not absolute in the sense that Jesus is full of grace, but absolute in the sense that she could hold no more. She was filled with grace as full as she possibly could have been at every single instant of her life. With every beat of that Immaculate Heart she grew in love, she grew in grace, she grew in her ability to give of herself more and more perfectly. Even now, that is what she does for each and every one of us. She loves her own Son and God, of course, perfectly; but she loves you perfectly, and because she is your mother, you now are formed also in her likeness. You are created in the image and likeness of her Son, but you are made in the likeness of your own parents. Spiritually you are also made in the likeness of your spiritual mother. You are called to holiness; you are called to a fullness of grace, not to the same fullness as Our Lady because she is without sin, but to the fullness of grace to which we are capable, each one of us is called.
We are called to be holy. St. Paul talked about that in that second reading that we heard from his letter to the Ephesians. He tells us that we are called in accordance with the will and the favor of Almighty God to be holy and without blemish in His sight. God is not calling us to be mediocre; He is calling us to be holy. He is calling us to be able to look at this extraordinary creature He has created for Himself to be His own Mother, and to be able to recognize that while we are not capable of the perfection to which she was called, nonetheless, we are all completely capable, with His help, to be holy. We are called to an extraordinary holiness. The only way we are ever going to be able to achieve that is with the help of Our Mother, and with the grace of her Son.
Today we celebrate the fact that God has created for Himself the one person who would be able to live this life perfectly. The one person above all that we can hold up and be able to show to Almighty God that one of us has been able to do His will the way that all of us were created to do it. All of us as Saint Paul said, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but there is one among us who has not. We need to be clear that it was not by her own doing that this was possible. It was by the grace of God. But she cooperated, and she cooperated perfectly. In so doing, she has crushed the proud and hideous head of Satan himself, and in her we can do the same. We can throw off the shackles of sin. We can rid ourselves of the influence of Satan in our lives. It is not going to be easy, and it is not something we can do ourselves, but with the grace of God and through the intercession of Our Blessed Lady, it is possible for each and every one of us to be able to do that.
The prophet Zechariah tells us that we are the jewels in the crown of Godís creation. Today we celebrate the crown jewel of Godís creation; the pinnacle of Godís creation; the most glorious of all creatures who was created higher even than the angels and now is indeed glorified higher than the angels, and she is our Mother. What a beautiful gift that God has prepared for Himself, and whom He has prepared for each one of us, for the glory of God and to the praise of His glory as Saint Paul said in that second reading. Our Lady is truly the praise of His glory. Each one of us in the Immaculate Heart of Our Beautiful Mother also is created for the praise of His glory. We are called to lives of holiness. Beg Our Blessed Lady for that gift to obtain for you the grace to be able to live according to the will of God, to be holy and without blemish in His sight and to be the praise of His glory. In other words, you are asking Our Lady to do for you what was already done for her Son. Her Son created her in His own image and likeness so that He could be created in her, in her image and likeness. Pray now that you who are created already in the image and likeness of her Son, that she as your mother will mold you into the perfect image of herself who is already the perfect image of her own Son. That is the glory which we celebrate in this wonderful Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the pinnacle of Godís creation and the praise of His glory.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.