It is amazing how many people are confused about the reason for today’s celebration. If you ask many Catholics about the Feast of the Immaculate Conception they will tell you it refers to Mary’s conception of Jesus. After listening to today’s gospel all too easy for us to focus on Mary giving birth to Jesus. But this feast is not about Mary and Jesus it is about Saint Ann and how Mary was immaculate from conception.
Catholic doctrine is explicit Mary was conceived without original sin. This doctrine tells us that Mary was prepared in advance to be a perfect unstained vessel for Jesus. This doctrine tells us that Mary was equipped and prepared for her role in the plan of salvation. It should cause us to look at ourselves and remember that each of us is equipped and prepared for our role in God’s plan. Just as you and I have to daily make choices to follow God’s plan so did Mary. We believe that Mary never failed to do God’s will each and every day. From an early age each choice she made was preparing her to ultimately say yes to something she did not fully understanding.
We easily consider Mary as something unique. The scriptures describe her as blessed and highly favored by God and so do we. But when the angel appeared to her and told her that she was to conceive and bear a son, Mary was troubled. Why would this uniquely blessed and holy woman be troubled? The fact that what was to happen to her was physically not possible should cause some concern. It caused problems for Moses at the Red Sea; Peter looking at the water; the disciples looking at the empty tomb and us believing that we like Mary are prepared to bear Christ.
I also believe that Mary did not think of herself in the same way that we do 2000 years later. Nothing in her life prepared her to think of herself as uniquely blessed. Mary was a young girl from the village of Nazareth. Nazareth was a small insignificant village of around 150 people. Mary was not someone who stood out in that small town. She was not from a prominent or wealthy family; she was not the daughter of a rabbi. That was why she was betrothed to Joseph, a poor carpenter in a poor town.
Mary would not have felt more blessed or different than any of her friends. Mary was just another young girl growing up in a poor village with no expectation except to spend her lifetime bearing babies, baking bread, cooking, doing laundry and caring for her husband. Mary knew those things were her future and she knew her own humanness. Mary would have been aware that each day there are opportunities to follow God or follow self. That is a truth that we all must face as humans.
God’s call is a call to abandon the security we have become comfortable with and trust God by venturing into the unknown. That’s the trouble with being a Christian. Just when we think our lives are settled and pretty smooth, God challenges us with a call to something unnknown and the unknown is frightening. It is easy to understand the frustration of Tevye in the Fiddler on the Roof, when he said, “Why don’t you choose someone else?”
We are willing, even anxious, to settle for less than what God offers us. God offers us the same thing he offered Mary, a life lived daily in the kingdom of God and we settle for the world instead. God’s offered Mary an unmarried pregnancy, the risk of Joseph casting her off and the likelihood of being stoned to death. Wow, who would not want that for themselves.
God does not make it easy to follow him does he? The choice to do God’s will is never easy. But when we daily make the small choices to follow God then when the hard choices come we like Mary are prepared to say yes.
Mary is our model for more than becoming the mother of Jesus. Mary is our model because she always made the choice to follow God’s will and not hers. Mary was immune from original sin but daily she made a decision to center her life on God’s will. By submitting her will to God each and every day she remained in that perfect state of grace and that is why Mary is so much a model for us today – she showed us it is possible as a human always choose God.
So what about us, for we like Mary are to bring Jesus to the world. Jesus said “those who do the will of my father are…mother to me” (Mat. 12:50). We were created with a purpose and daily we make choices to accept that purpose or reject it. What God offered Mary is offered to us. Do we look at the cost or do we trust God’s plan?