Wednesday December 8, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier 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 we have the great joy of celebrating the feast of our Blessed Lady’s Immaculate Conception. And on top of the normal joy that we would have in celebrating this solemnity, today is the 150th anniversary of the official dogmatic definition that Our Lady was in fact immaculately conceived.
Now we need to be very clear about a couple of things. Number one, what we are talking about with regard to this feast is the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne. It is not the conception of Jesus. That is what is known as the Virginal Conception, and that took place at the time of the Annunciation; we celebrate that on the 25th of March. But the feast we celebrate today is the day our Blessed Lady was conceived without sin. That is what the word immaculate means – “without stain”, quite literally, is what the word means. So Immaculate Conception means that our Blessed Mother is the only person in human history to be conceived without sin. Obviously, Adam and Eve were created without sin, but they were not conceived. Jesus is not a human person; He is a divine person. He was conceived without Original Sin, but He is God. And so Our Lady is the only one in all of humanity for whom this miracle has been reserved. And that is precisely what it is; it is a miracle. She was conceived through the normal relations of her parents, Saints Anne and Joachim, and by a miracle of God (beyond just the miracle of conception) she was kept free of sin from the very first instant of her existence.
This was to be able to fulfill exactly what was prophesied regarding her, something that in our first reading today was translated in a way that does not make clear that that is what we are talking about. Traditionally, the way that first reading was worded, it said: You will nip at his heel and she will crush your head. That is what Our Lord told the serpent, and it would be the woman who would have the authority over the serpent to crush his vile head. That is precisely what we celebrate today. Satan has no authority over Our Lady. Not even for one instant of her existence was there ever anything sinful on her soul; and, because of this, she was always in perfect conformity with the Will of God. At every instant of her life, she was doing the Will of God and growing more and more in love for God. That means from the very first instant of her life there was more love and more grace in her soul than there is in all of our souls combined right now. She grew at every instant of her life in love to the point where she loves more than all of heaven and earth combined. If you think about all the angels and the incredible love they have – the seraphim, who are the fiery ones because they are on fire with love for God, and all the cherubim and all the other angels and all of the saints who have ever lived who loved God so much – all of their love combined pales in comparison to the love Our Lady has for God. That is the extraordinary nature of what God Himself has created in His mother.
Now we can look at her and say to ourselves that she does not really stand as much of a model for us because we cannot relate. Quite the contrary. She is the only human person who lived life the way that God intended it to be lived. What we see in her is exactly what God’s original intention was for each and every one of us. But we also see in her the way we are to live our lives. We will never be free of sin in the sense that we never had it, but we can strive to live always in the presence of God, always seeking to do His Will, and always in union with Him. That is the way Our Lady lived her life, a life of prayer, a life of love, love of God and love of neighbor. That is something that is not beyond any one of us here. Affected by sin as all of us are, we can still strive for that holiness of life. So it is not beyond us to be able to model ourselves after the way that she lived her life, and that is what we need to strive for.
She is our mother. She will teach us how to do that if we ask, if we really desire it. There is nothing that she would want more than for us to be able to be totally in love with her Son and to serve Him with our whole heart and soul and strength. What mother would not want that for her child? And here, the greatest of all mothers will be able to help us to live even in this world without sin, that is, without committing any more sins. Now we might scoff at that and think, “It’s not possible for me to stop sinning.” Yes, it is. It is completely possible for all of us to stop sinning. Not by ourselves, not by our own power, we are not just going to make the decision today: “Okay, I’m not going to sin anymore.” That is not going to work. But by the grace and the power of God, we can stop sinning and we can live lives of true holiness. That is exactly what God wants for us, that is the way Our Lady lived her life, and it is the way she will help us to live ours. And that is exactly what Saint Paul told us in the second reading, that the very purpose of our existence is for the glory of God.
So as we look at our Blessed Lady and this glorious feast we celebrate today, we rejoice that God has made one human person for his own self, and made her perfect so she would stand truly as a model for all of us, but also as a mother for all of us to teach us, to guide us, and to help us grow in holiness and to serve her Son sinlessly and in holiness of life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.