Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The feast of the Immaculate Conception is near and dear to my heart. I didn’t always understand this Catholic feast. For most of my life I thought that it referred to Jesus’ conception. He was the Son of God, right? So doesn’t it make sense that his miraculous conception – what with Mary’s virginity and the message of the angel – be immaculate? I thought so, and so have others.

Jesus’ conception, though stunning in its own right, does not receive the title “immaculate.” His conception is referred to as the Virginal Conception, but we regularly refer to the whole event as the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38)

The Immaculate Conception actually refers to Mary’s conception. God gave her the “unique grace and privilege” of being “preserved free from all stain of original sin” (from Pope Pius IX in God Ineffable on December 8, 1854). Responding to the continuing grace of God, Mary was sinless throughout her lifetime. And so Mary is “immaculate” which was only proper for the woman who would carry the Son of God in her womb.

As an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister, I am humbled to have Mary as my religious namesake. Like others, I struggle in my life and my relationship with God, and I am anything but immaculate. But I have come to realize that Mary is truly our sister for though she is immaculate, she is human like us. She gives me a glimpse of how to say “yes” to God in all the big and little events in my life. Mary shows me that it is possible to meet the daily challenges of life with patience, grace, humility, and love.

On this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I pray that you and I continue to aspire to be “full of grace” knowing that Mary is by our side.

In what ways do you experience Mary in everyday life?

Sister Julie Vieira is an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister. On this feast day, she will participate in the venerable IHM tradition of renewing her religious vows. Sister Julie blogs regularly at A Nun’s Life (http://anunslife.org)
Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Francisco_de_Zurbarán_018.jpg

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3 Responses

  1. She has been present in my entire life. I believe when I was a young girl and severel times since , she has actually saved my life. All I can say is , during a violent act directed towards me I saw a small , thin hand pressing on my stomach and the potential violent person left without doing me harm. I am very thankful for Her for that.

  2. As a young woman Catholic I admit that I find this solemnity a bit perplexing. I’ll just start by saying that I have great respect and reverence for Mary, a woman, a mother , and most significantly as God-bearer. But I find it challenging that we find it neccessary to be SO concerned that she be “free from the stain of sin”
    I feel like it’s somehow connected to the idea that a woman’s sexuality is somehow sinful, an idea that I find offensive. And I wonder about what it says about us that we feel Mary had to be so special and so different from her own conception… does that mean I am not called to be a God-bearer in my own way?
    I read a reflection yesterday which reminded me of why Mary’s role is so important to me and to us as a church- not because of what she’s NOT but because of what, and who, she IS

  3. Sharon … Thank you for sharing your story. What a powerful experience of the presence of Mary!

    Sarah … You have hit on a question and issue that the Church has struggled with for eons and continues to do so to this day. Even Jesus was confronted with how others perceived women’s “nature”. And you are right, women’s sexuality — indeed, women themselves — have often been thought of as sinful, as less than whole, as somehow misformed. We must continually reject these kinds of attitudes and behaviors. They are not of God.

    In terms of the doctrine on the Immaculate Conception … like many of the Church’s teachings on Mary, they are less a statement about Mary than they are about Jesus the Christ. For example, the Rosary is a meditation not on Mary but on the life of Christ. So while this teaching of Mary’s Immaculate Conception does of course say something about Mary, it’s main intention is to affirm Jesus’ nature of being without sin by demonstrating that even the womb that cared him, the flesh and blood of mother that nurtured him was without sin.

    As we meditate on the meaning of this feast for our own lives, it can definitely be tricky because of the underlying tensions about women, women’s sexuality, our role in the Church, etc. When I think about this feast day, I am reminded of what my IHM Sister wrote about this day … that this feast renews my commitment to the meaning and message of Mary’s liberating song on behalf of the poor and oppressed which in turn fuels a dynamic integration of prayer and commitment in me.

    I encourage you to read a book by theologian Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ. She has done some remarkable work on Mary, looking at her for who she is. Check out “Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints”.

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