Hail Mary! Full of Grace! This week, we will celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The past few years, I’ve had a hard time finding personal meaning for this Holy Day. But, after reflecting in preparation for this article, I found it fitting that it lands on December 8th, smack-dab in the middle of Advent. On this day, as we are preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ at Christmas, we remember God perfectly created Mary within her mother’s womb in preparation to give Christ to the world. Like Mary, we were created in God’s love. Like Mary, we are called to perfection so we can carry Christ out to the world.
Now, perfection is a strong word. I ask myself, “How can I possibly be perfect like Mary?” It seems like I am always in a struggle with sin. Sometimes I remind myself of my sons who wind up sitting next to each other in the back seat of our car - they cannot resist the urge to pick at each other until a fight erupts, even though they know it never ends well once they start. I’m that little brother in the back seat when I want to greedily add one more dress to my collection, when I get and stay angry over a messy house, when I turn away in pride from forgiveness with someone I love. These are daily struggles -- how am I supposed to overcome them all?
It turns out Mary’s Immaculate Conception gives us guidance on how to live in holiness. Consider Pope Francis’ words: “The mystery of this girl of Nazareth is not foreign to us. She is not there while we are here. No, we are bound together. In fact, God looks with love upon every man and woman! With a first and last name. He looks with love upon each one of us… We, too, have always been chosen by God to live a holy life, free of sin. It is a plan of love that God renews every time we come to him, especially in the Sacraments.” (Homily from Dec. 8, 2013, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception)
The love of God is what made Mary immaculate, so she would be a fitting bearer of Christ to the world. God’s love also brought us into being. Although we are not without sin, God gives us that same love in the Sacraments. The Sacraments show us the mercy of God and gives us an outpouring of grace and love--strength to resist the urge to sin and give of ourselves to others. This Advent, let us open our hearts to God’s gifts of love and Sacrament, and allow them to form us into more perfect and grace-filled bearers of Christ to the world.