Homily for Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which also happens to be the patronal feast day of the United States. So, happy feast day.
This particular feast of the Blessed Mother has deep roots in the tradition of the Church. In 1854, in his Apostolic Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX declared as official dogma of the Church the long-held belief that Mary’s conception was “immaculate”, that she was protected from the stain and effects of original sin from the very first moment of her existence. It also happens to be one of the few times in history that a pope has made an infallible statement.
Why did God give Mary such a unique privilege? Because of Christ, and because of us. This privilege is granted to Mary from God, simply because He had chosen her as the Mother of the Savior. God chose her for that specific purpose. Mary’s greatness, her holiness, her purity aren’t things that were given to her because of anything she accomplished. They don’t come from her natural, human qualities; they come from the Lord – all because the Lord had chosen a young Jewish girl named Mary to bear His Son. What mattered most for Mary was God’s action in her life, and the same thing matters most for us.
In our second reading 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 it is the Lord Himself who takes the initiative to plant the seeds of faith within us. He is the one who chooses us! He chooses us to be His sons and daughters. And we all need to be reminded of this truth from time to time.
St. Paul tells the Ephesians that it is only because of their communion with the Lord that they have been chosen. He says: “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). That same message continues to hold true for us. We were created to live in communion with God, and it is only through our specific and unique relationship with Christ that our true purpose can be accomplished, that the reason for our existence is achieved.
Each one of us were created for the sole purpose to know, serve, and love God above all else. That means that we are called to follow His will for us, to seek to know how He desires for us to live our lives. It isn’t about the things that we desire to accomplish; it isn’t about how we think our lives should go. It is about the Lord.
For many of us, there is a great temptation to believe that we are the ones who initiate a relationship with God, that we are the ones who choose to be disciples of Jesus, to claim this title of Christian and to go out and proclaim the Gospel. We cannot fall into that way of thinking. We have to acknowledge that our faith is a gift given to us by the Father.
The most precious gift that God gives human beings is the gift of faith. On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, we look to Mary. She is our model, our intercessor, our mother. And like her, we are called to respond to how the Lord is inviting 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 didn’t hide, she waited for the Lord. In our Gospel, Mary responds to God by saying: “Do with me as you will” (cf. Lk. 1:38). “Fiat.” Today, 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? In what way is He calling us to more fully follow His will? In what way is God calling us to be transformed by His Presence? The answers to those questions will only be given to us if we allow the Lord to lead us, if we follow the example of our Blessed Mother.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is truly a great gift to us from the Lord. The best way for us to acknowledge this gift and to give gratitude to God for His mother is to follow in her footsteps, answering every call that God sends to our hearts in the same way that Mary answered her call. 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! Today, may we echo Mary’s “yes.” As we come forward to receive the very Presence of the Lord in Communion, may we pause and say to Him: “Lord, open my heart to follow Your Will; may it be done to me according to your word.”
Painting: La Inmaculada Concepción, Francisco Rizi. Public Domain. Wikicommons.