Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception, the solemnity that we celebrate today, also happens to be the patronal feast day of the United States. So, happy feast day.
Why do we celebrate this feast? In 1854, in his Apostolic Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX clarified without uncertainty the long-held belief of the Church that Mary was conceived free from original sin. In proclaiming the Immaculate Conception of Mary as a dogma of the Church – one of the few times in history that a pope has made an infallible statement – the Holy Father expressed precisely and clearly that Mary was conceived free from the stain of original sin. This privilege of Mary derives from God’s having chosen her as Mother of the Savior. Because of that, she received the benefits of salvation in Christ from the very moment of her conception. This feast is not celebrating Jesus being conceived without sin; it’s celebrating Mary’s conception without the stain of original sin.
This great gift to Mary, an ordinary human being just like us, was fitting because she was destined to be Mother of God. The purity and holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a model for all Christians.
In our second reading today from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (1:4), we are reminded: “God chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” What that tells us is that the initiative in faith is God’s! God chooses us! And we all need to be reminded of this truth. We may tell ourselves that the initiative for our faith is from ourselves not from God. Paul knew otherwise; Mary knew otherwise.
How unlikely that God chose Paul. Think about the story of his life. He was persecuting the early Church. We know that he was likely present at the martyrdom of St. Stephen. Despite all that he had done, the Lord intervened in Paul’s life and brought him to a moment of deep conversion. Paul was on his way to Damascus with the intention of persecuting the followers of Jesus even more and bringing them back to Jerusalem in chains. Suddenly, Jesus appeared and confronted him: “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?”
Clearly the initiative for Paul’s conversion came from Jesus and not from Paul! And so Paul reminds the Ephesians that like him they did not choose God but God chose them. Paul could not be clearer: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3-4).
And Paul reminds them that it is only because of their communion with the Lord that they have been chosen: “In him we were chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ” (Eph. 1:11).
How unlikely that God chose Paul! Yes, God chose Paul, and Paul responded fully.
And how unlikely that God chose Mary! From before the world’s existence and from all the women of the human race, God chose Mary. God chose an obscure woman, from an obscure country and an obscure village to become God’s earthly mother. God chose Mary!
And God encountered Mary just as unexpectedly as God encountered Paul! Startled like Paul, Mary heard God’s voice through the angel, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). She was frightened so the angel reassured her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Lk. 1:30-31).
Even though Mary was troubled, she still trusted. In that trust, she was able to respond to the angel and to the Lord, conforming her will to His, and offering every ounce of her being to participate in God’s plan for salvation. She says to the angel: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).
How unlikely that God chose Mary! Yes, God chose Mary, and Mary responded fully!
In the same way, God chooses us! How unlikely that God chooses us! The most precious gift God gives human beings is the gift of faith. On this feast of the Immaculate Conception we look to Mary. We look to Mary especially amid our sufferings. She is our model, our intercessor, our mother. And like her, we are called to respond to how the Lord is calling us to give of ourselves to participate fully in His plan of salvation. What is our response to being chosen?
In one sense, each of us has already committed to at least taking the first step. We are here! We have already shown up…and that’s half the battle. Through that, the Lord sees that we are at least trying to more fully say yes to the vocation that He has placed on our hearts – the vocation to growing in holiness and entering more deeply into relationship with Him. But we are called each day to say yes to God. Mary never failed to respond to God’s love. And even though she was troubled, unlike Eve, she did not hide, she waited for the Lord. “Do with me as you will,” (cf. Lk. 1:38) she said. “Fiat.” Tonight, we are being asked to give our own fiats.
We are being called to say yes to God. However that yes looks. Maybe it’s saying yes to renewing our love for a spouse; yes to embracing a needed virtue and turning away from a vice; yes to following a particular calling the Lord is placing on our hearts; yes to simply offering more time to prayer each day. In what way is God inviting us to say yes to Him?
So we pray for our world, and we pray also for ourselves that we may actually experience the depth of God’s indwelling in us, so that, like Mary, we may be transformed by His Presence! And so we say yes, every single day. Yes, God chooses us! On Mary’s feast day we pray that we may imitate her in responding ever more fully, more deeply, more lovingly to God’s call!
“God Chooses” was co-authored by Fr. Adam Nowak, priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. To connect with Fr. Adam, give him a follow on Instagram and Twitter or visit his website: http://fatheradamnowak.com.