Thursday December 8, 2005 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)
In the second reading today from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul, talking about each one of us who is a member of Christ, says, In Him we also were chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One Who accomplishes all things according to the intentions of His Will. As we celebrate today the solemnity of Our Blessed Lady’s Immaculate Conception, meaning, of course, the day that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, without the stain of Original Sin, we then have to ask ourselves: Why? This was not something Mary did for herself; she had not yet been conceived. It was from the very moment of her creation, of her conception, that she is without sin. This is purely a gift from God, not something she earned, not something she deserved, but it was a singular grace given to her. And so if all of us have been chosen by God, destined in accord with the purpose of the One Who accomplishes all things according to the intentions of His Will, then the obvious question is: Why? Why is Our Lady conceived without sin?
In the other two readings that we have today, it is very clearly laid out for us. In the first reading from the Book of Genesis, we hear the words spoken by God Himself to Satan: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and that ultimately it is the woman who is to crush the head of Satan. If we look at the rest of the reading, we hear about Adam and Eve. They were without sin, yet the devil in his wiles was able to topple them without too much difficulty. And we all know from our own lives, being affected by Original Sin, how tragically easy it is for the devil to cause us untold problems. So there is no possible way, on a human level, that Our Lady would have been able to overcome Satan’s wiles if she had been tainted by sin.
Sin, we recognize, even Original Sin itself that we all inherit, darkens the mind and it weakens the will. So it is not even that we want to do things that are wrong; it is in our weakness that we are already leaning in the wrong direction. Therefore, if Our Lady was going to overcome Satan completely, she had to be without sin. It was the extraordinary grace of God that kept her from sinning throughout her entire life; consequently, it is God’s grace that allowed her to crush Satan’s head. Yet, at the same time, we all know that even though we have God’s grace we do not always cooperate very well, and that even in the state of sanctifying grace–where we have every grace necessary to stay away from sin–we do not do it. Our Lady would not have been able to either if she had been affected by sin at all.
Now we also see the second reason, which is really the primary reason, why Our Lady was without sin, and that is in the Gospel reading. The angel Gabriel appears to Our Blessed Lady, and says to her that the child she is to conceive will be called holy, the Son of God. Our Lady is without sin so that she could be the worthy mother of the Son of God. When we stop to ponder the idea of what it means to be the Mother of God, I think any one of us could easily reason to the fact that the Mother of God Himself needs to be without sin. Jesus came to free us from our sins, and so what happened with Our Lady is that the grace of salvation, the grace that was achieved for us on the Cross by the shedding of His precious Blood, was applied to Our Blessed Lady at the moment of her conception.
Now this might seem illogical to us because how can the grace be given to Our Lady some forty or fifty years before Our Lord was actually crucified? But recall that even the people of the Old Testament times were saved by the grace of Christ, that the grace of Christ had to be applied to them so they could be saved; and so it was with Our Lady, in a singular and extraordinary way. She is the only human person ever to be conceived without Original Sin. She is the only one who ever will be conceived without Original Sin. She should have been with sin; she was conceived through the normal marital relations of her parents, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, and she should have had sin like the rest of us. But because of these two reasons that we have seen, God spared her that specifically so she could fulfill the purpose for which He had created her.
And if, as Saint Paul tells us, each one of us was chosen from all eternity by God, so it is with Our Blessed Lady. In fact, some of the saints tell us that the very first thought in the mind of God (after Himself, that is) was the thought of Our Lady, that from all eternity He had decreed that she would come into this world to be the mother of His Son and that was the very first thing on His mind. So we see the mercy of God being extended to all of us in the very person of Our Blessed Lady; that, in one of our own, we have one who is without sin; in one of our own, we have the one who has crushed the head of Satan; in one of our own, we have something which is humanly impossible–but completely possible for God–that is, that a human creature would be the mother of the Eternal God. It is for these reasons that she needed to be without sin, specifically so she could fulfill the purpose for which God created her.
Now as Saint Paul tells us, each one of us, called and chosen by God, also is made for the purpose for which God chose to create us. We have an example, on of our own, who is placed before us, who did the Will of God in all things and stands as the example for each of us to live holy lives without blemish, as Saint Paul tells us, so that we too can exist for the praise of the glory of God. And learning from Our Lady’s example, not able to do it as perfectly, obviously, as she was, but with the grace of God we too can crush the head of Satan–in Our Lady and with Our Lady–and we too are able to glorify God in our actions and in the way that we live so that in all things we will be able to fulfill the purpose of the One Who created us to fulfill His intentions.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.