On the Immaculate Conception

Feast of the Immaculate Conception – December 8
The following Homily was given by Fr. Herbert Nicholls on December 8th at the Mother of the Light Convent

On this 8th of December, nine months before her birth we celebrate the beginning of life for Mary as a person, a person who would ultimately agree to the plan of God to become the mother of His divine Son.

Kekaratomena Miriam. The greeting of the angel traditionally translated as full of or filled with grace. Why have modern translations preferred to use “favored”? Some might see an objection that only God Himself is full of grace. Still others might object to the very existence of grace itself. In reality, kekaratomena can be translated as either favor or grace. Both are correct.

For Mary the favor or grace of her immaculate state of being, from the moment of her conception is a call to holiness. In one sense It is unique—for her and for no other; but in another sense it is the same call to holiness for all of us. I came across an explanation I had never seen before.

Because of original sin all of us are in a fallen state of being. We participate in sin in one way or another. We are in need of Christ’s Redemption. Mary, by the grace of God, being preserved from original sin was nonetheless in need of redemption like every human person; but in her case it was uniquely applied to her by anticipation—for us it is by participation.

Pope St. John Paul the Great once wrote: From the very first moment of her conception, she belonged to Christ. Sharing in His grace. Because of her distinction, her obedience, she is redeemed in a more exalted fashion. This does not make Mary any less human. She is not a goddess to be adored. Mary herself sings of God as we have heard so many times: “My Savior who has done great things for me; Holy is His Name”.

When we read the dialogue between the angel Gabriel and Mary it is striking to note not so much how holy, immaculate and clean that Mary is—but rather how free she is to respond to the call of God.

She who was highly favored and full of grace was not faking humility. For God had looked upon her lowliness; and that is why He chose her.

Still a young woman, barely older than a child, she does not allow her human limitations to become an obstacle. She asks a very logical question: How can this be? I have not had relations with a man! Then comes the totally unexpected answer: the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and the child conceived shall be called the Son of God.

Nothing further could hold her back from saying yes to God! Not fear or pride or even false humility. She said so simply: Be it done to me as you say!

Would we be as free? NO! But we do not have the grace of Immaculate Conception either! But we have been redeemed by Christ through participation in Holy Baptism. We have the potential for the same freedom which Mary had through anticipation. The same grace of God is at work in us.

What is it then that holds us back from responding to God’s call to us? Is it because we need an angel sent from Heaven to convince us? Even then would we be convinced? Is it fear? Is it pride? Is it false humility?

Pope Benedict XVI wrote: it is not enough to profess belief in Jesus Christ with words alone. The most profound statement of our belief is the manner in which we live our lives; a journey which is punctuated by daily opportunities to profess one’s faith by saying yes to God!

The message of the Gospel for this feast is not un-coincidental to the message of the season of the Glorious Birth of Christ which we anticipate. It is in that context that we prepare for the Incarnation of the world’s Savior. It is one of joyful hope. Mary is like the dawn that precedes the morning of new life in Christ. We celebrate both to emphasize and honor the close link between the miracle of the Immaculate Conception and the miraculous incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

If we let Him—if we give God permission to do His will, God can do mighty things for us. But in all of His grace, He can do little for us if we are unwilling to say as Mary did: Let it be done to me as you say!

We honor Mary as the Mother of God and as our Mother, our intercessor, like any loving Mother; we should ask today, every day, but especially today, to help us name those things which prevents us from being truly free, from being favored by God, from being filled with grace, so we too can cry: Let it be as you say!