[This was delivered a few years ago, and the only thing that needs to be changed is the threat of the HHH Obamacare mandate instead of the Freedom of Choice Act.]
The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God
Reverend Frederick L. Miller, Mt. St. Mary Seminary
On the day that Adam introduced sin into human history, God cursed the serpent for drawing the first man and woman into his revolt and, at the same time, blessed our original parents, and in them, the entire race, with the promise of salvation. The Lord pledged that victory over the serpent would come, but at the price of a struggle of cosmic proportions. He noted that a Woman would be intimately involved in the victory. God said to the serpent, I will put hatred between you and the woman, between your seed and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike at his heel (Gen. 3: 15). The words of the blessing are enigmatic. One may only wonder what the people of ancient Israel understood when they heard them. The full understanding would come only in Christ.
According to the Church’s understanding of this prophetic word recorded in the Book of Genesis, God has created only one hatred, a hatred that is fierce, bitter, ever active, a hatred that has its origin early in human history and will go on uninterruptedly with escalating force until the end of time. It is the hatred between the Woman and the serpent, that is, the enmity between the Blessed Mother of God and Satan, the antipathy between the seed of Mary, Jesus and all who permit the grace of Christ to permeate them, and the seed of the serpent, all those who deliberately reject Christ’s saving Grace. Ultimately, it is the odium between the Church of Christ and all the forces in the world that seek to undermine and destroy the Church and the sacred memory of Christ.
In the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, the Lord gave Mary the grace, the power to say yes to the Incarnation, yes to the Redemptive death of Christ and, yes to our regeneration through Baptism. In other words, God willed the active cooperation of a woman in His Son’s work of redemption. God willed that His son become man through Mary’s consent. God willed that his son redeem the human race by suffering and dying on the cross. He willed that Mary be present with Jesus in his suffering, offer her Son to the Father in sacrifice, and offer herself with him for our salvation. God willed that Mary consent on Calvary to be the mother of each of His sons and daughters – the Mother of Christ’s grace in souls. Mary’s capacity to say yes to God and collaborate and contribute to the salvation of the human race flows directly from the grace of Christ’s passion freely bestowed on her in her Immaculate Conception. In the Immaculate Conception, God declared war on Satan, sin, and death and He ensured the victory by filling Mary with His sovereign grace! In the mystery of the Blessed Virgin’s cooperation in the Redeemer’s work, she does not merely prefigures the Church, but rather she is the Immaculate Church, without spot or wrinkle, who will ever be the associate and mediatrix of the one Redeemer and Mediator.
This prophecy found in Genesis 3: 15 has been known for at least a millennium as the Protoevangelium – the first proclamation of the good news of salvation. Its significance became fully intelligible only in the light of the Gospel of Christ. All of the major elements of the prophecy are found in the 19th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel, and, in particular, in John 19: 25 – 27: Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Surely the serpent was present on Golgotha. As is most often the case, the serpent was present, but in a hidden and silent way. His seed was present on Calvary in a prominent place! Listen to these words of Christ to the Pharisees who had just claimed God as their Father: ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father, the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. The seed of the serpent was certainly on Golgotha. The Pharisees and Priests stood in the shadow of the cross, gloating over the work that they had accomplished for their father, a liar and a murderer from the beginning. They had lied and perjured themselves at the trial of Jesus to bring about the unjust condemnation – the murder – of an innocent man. They were victorious, or so it seemed.
To those without faith, the Seed of the Woman was surely defeated by a shameful death. In reality, the Seed of the Woman was exalted in glory on the cross. He wore a crown and reigned from the true Tree of Life. He was hailed in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin as Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Although he appeared to be totally destroyed, Christ, in fact, by his obedience and love, crushed the head of the ancient serpent, initiating the new creation of grace, and establishing the Kingdom that will never end.
The Woman was present with Him suffering in her heart all that her Son suffered for our salvation. Barely able to speak, Christ addressed his mother: Woman, behold your Son. And to his disciples, the Crucified said: Behold, your Mother. A mysterious birth was initiated through the agony of Christ and the faithful love of the Woman. Christ told Mary that she was not dying, but, rather, was in the pangs of labor. She was giving birth to His disciples. The New Adam, the true head of the human race, and the New Eve, the true mother of all the living, together gave life on Calvary, life that will never end. From that hour, the Lord Jesus began to live by grace in his disciples.
Listen to Origen, the great exegete of the Alexandrian Church, commenting of this text of St. John’s Gospel: While Mary has no son other than Jesus, as it appears to those who think correctly about her, nevertheless Jesus said to his Mother, “Behold your son and not, “behold, this man also is your son.” In other words, Jesus said to her, “This man is Jesus whom you bore”. Here again we need to say that on Calvary, Mary was not only a type of the life-giving Church but, in fact, was the Church in person. After the revelation of the Church on Pentecost, Mary remained the Church’s first member, the model of holiness for every other member of the Church, the type of the Church as Virgin, Bride, and Mother. Above all, she remains the Woman who always works with, through, and in the Church. Each of us, for example, is a son or daughter of the Church. We know that the Church gave us birth through the Word and through Baptism. The Church nurtures the life of Christ in us through the Eucharist. The Church is our Holy Mother. Mary, likewise, is our Mother with and through the Church in the order of grace.
In every age and in every place this struggle between the Woman and her seed and the serpent and his seed continues and will continue until the last moment of the world’s history. In fact, Divine Revelation tells us that this battle will escalate right up to the day of the anti-christ who will seek the ultimate annihilation of the Church and the eradication of the name of Jesus Christ from human society – with charming rhetoric and a warm smile. Have we forgotten that the prophecy of Genesis 3: 15 encapsulates our Catholic philosophy of history? Is the Church in the United States in denial regarding the fact that the serpent is the undying, mortal enemy of the Woman, the Church of Christ? Have we convinced ourselves in our worldly complacency that we are not involved in a battle unto death? My brothers and sisters, might not the immediate future, 2009, force us to drop the mask of pretense and face the truth of the situation: The Woman and the serpent are on a collision course in our country – and that collision may be on the immediate horizon.
It seems that all of us, bishops, priests, and laity, are already involved in a great crisis to defend basic Gospel truths in our contemporary society. Allow me to pose some questions: Will it soon be an act of civil disobedience to deny a woman her so-called inalienable right to kill her unborn child? If our President-Elect enacts the Freedom of Choice Act, will the religious communities who own and oversee our Catholic health care systems, close their hospitals rather than cooperate in acts of willful murder? Will it be an act of civil disobedience for a Catholic hospital to refuse to distribute contraceptives, perform sterilization, engage in in vetro fertilization, provide painless murder for the terminally ill? Will it be an act of civil disobedience to publicly oppose stem cell research on aborted fetuses? Will it soon be an act of civil disobedience for a minister of the Church to refuse to perform the Rites of Matrimony for a homosexual or lesbian couple? Will it be an act of civil disobedience to teach the intrinsic evil of all of these issues in our schools and religious education programs – and to preach against these evils from our pulpits? If so, there might be a big Mount St. Mary’s reunion in jail! Are we ready for that or will be compromise? We have had some experience of that too!
Will it be possible in the months and years ahead to continue the program of accommodating the Gospel to the society in which we live? To speak plainly, will it be possible to continue to play politics with the Gospel of Christ? Will it be possible to continue to give the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ to those who in the objective order are publicly his enemies? Will it be possible to permit anti-Catholic doctrine and morality to be taught in our Catholic colleges and universities? Will we permit another generation of Catholic youth to be raised without a clear understanding of Catholic dogma and morality – and on today’s Solemnity we must add, without a knowledge and love of Mary? If our answer is some variation of the following, we may well find ourselves among the seed of the serpent: Yes, we will not rock the boat. We will not make waves. We will not disturb our comfortable, materialistic lifestyle. We will not suffer for the truth. We do not want to be considered extreme, This has happened before in our Church’s history. Consider the Bishops of England who judged it prudent and wise to accept a monarch’s divorce and, thereby, break communion with the Apostolic See rather than relinquish their own ecclesiastical status and privileges. May that sad moment in history not happen again in our land!
Today’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Brothers and Sisters, tells us that God has given the Blessed Virgin Mary more grace than there is evil in the world. This immense power of grace to overcome evil remains in Mary, and also in the Church of Christ. As we proceed to the Eucharistic Prayer, we will enter into the very heart of that Immaculate Church where there is no sin, original or actual, where there is the fullness of Grace, the Indwelling of the Three, and power to overcome all evil, including death.
There is only one way to overcome and destroy evil – the Lord Jesus’ way: through the preaching of the Gospel and the testimony of the Cross. It is only through the fearless proclamation of the Gospel and the witness of the Cross that the head of the serpent is crushed. Are we willing to preach that Gospel in its integrity and suffer for it?
Let us open ourselves to Mary, our Immaculate Mother, so that she may form us as her seed – form us as Jesus was formed in her womb and in her heart. Let us ask her humbly to make us her priests. Let us ask her to use us in the time of our priesthood to crush the head of the ancient serpent through the fearless preaching of the Gospel and our willingness to carry the cross of her Son. In this way, we will prepare for the Reign of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God.