The Immaculate Conception
“Let it be done to me as you say.”
These words of the Blessed Virgin Mary are the most important words ever spoken by woman in human history. For by Mary’s consent, every human person was given a second chance for salvation, and the rest of creation would one day be transformed forever by the glory of God. Thus the whole created universe truly owes her a tremendous debt of gratitude for her “yes” to God’s plan for her and through her the rest of our world.
How fitting is this plan of God for Mary, that is, for her role in the restoration of man and the created world. After all, a woman had played a central role with the first Adam in the causing the downfall of the human race. And God chose to have a woman play a central role, though subordinate, with the Second Adam Who would redeem the human race and restore creation through the instrument of His humanity which he would receive materially through His Mother Mary. But this redemptive work of Jesus will take place only after and because of His Mother Mary’s free cooperation with the plan of God which begins with her consent to the Incarnation in er womb.
The Virgin Mother Mary is the New Eve whose consent reverses the consent that the first Eve gave to Satan rather than to God. How marvelous, then, that God choose to redeem the human race beginning with the cooperation of the woman he had chosen to be the Mother of His Incarnate Son, the Redeemer of man. And How marvelous that God chose to redeem the human race without ever disregarding human freedom, the dignity of the human person, beginning with the act by which His Son would become a member of our race. He required Mary’s free consent to bring The Word into human history as a true man born of woman, the incarnate Son of the new Eve.
St. Anselm, in a sermon on Mary, went so far as to say this about Mary’s consent: “He who could create all things from nothing, would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.” And the great saint went on to add this: “Truly the Lord is with you, to whom God granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to Himself. ”
Now, in what sense can these words of Anselm’s be true, that we owe as much to Mary as to God! Obviously, the redemption does not take place through Mary, but through her Son and His redemptive Sacrifice. But nonetheless, Jesus will come into the world only through the consent of the Virgin, and not without that consent, for if we take the truth of human freedom seriously, as seriously as God respects His gift to us, then we must affirm that the conception of Mary did not take place without her absolutely free consent – “Let it be done to me as you say.”
What gloriously beautiful words, says Anselm, for by this act of Mary’s free will, powerfully accompanied by God’s grace to be sure, all of creation could be set free, free from the slavery of sin, free from every form of corruption. And thus, says Anselm, “the Universe itself rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness” as it sees God making all things new with the loving, free cooperation of the woman he had chosen to be His mother.
What made these words of consent possible, however, was not merely the free will of Mary unassisted, but the free will of Mary accompanied and perfected by the special graces God gave to her from the first moment of her existence in this world, her Immaculate Conception. God reads the human heart, and these consenting words of Mary would be accepted by God as authentic only if they were a perfect act of freedom, and a choice which involved not merely the willingness to be come a mother, but also the absolute surrender of the whole of her being and freedom to God, to do with her life as God chose, whatever God chose for her. She who would be the mother of God’s Son, must be totally emptied of self, denying God nothing that might be asked – in short she must be perfect in her concurrence with God’s will. Thus Mary’s “yes” is equivalent in her life to the words Jesus would one day utter in the Garden and on the Cross – “not my will but thine be done; Father into your hands I commend my spirit. Faith hears in these words of Mary, the perfect anticipation of the words of Jesus in his passion. The New Eve and the New Adam are one in their absolute adherence to the will of the Father.
What, then, made this perfect gift of self possible for Mary, this gift which denies nothing to God, this perfect and unconditional gift to God? Her total sinlessness, for if she had even the slightest imperfection of sin in her life, she could not have made this perfect gift of self, and these words would not have been uttered, and we all would have been lost.
And what made her sinlessness possible? The feast we celebrate today teaches us that God’s special grace not only preserved Mary free from Original Sin but free from even the smallest venial sin for all her life. She was God’s most perfect work in the redemption, the chosen woman, the child of Adam who was redeemed at the first moment of her conception, and the power of that original grace accompanied her through life bestowing the most extraordinary graces preparing her for the day when we should utter her beautiful consent which prepared the way of the Lord into this world, and into our lives. And yet, though we cannot understand how, all these powerful graces, far from in any way denying or hindering Mary’s true freedom, actually perfected her freedom, and made it all the more her freedom. Anselm most wonderfully says what the result is for us :
“Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom.”
Ah, yes, we are the dead things of nature who reacquired our freedom indirectly through Mary’s free consent. For by her free consent, the Son of God came into our world and redeemed us and our freedom from the slavery of sin. As a result of her “yes, thy will be done,” the grace of Jesus Christ was poured out on our world through his redemptive death and resurrection, and we “dead things” have been set free by that grace. In the end, our freedom, like Mary’s is made possible and brought to perfection by the same grace of Jesus Christ.
So, if we really value being set free by Christ, if we really value the possibility of that freedom growing on this earth and coming to perfection in heaven, then with the rest of creation we will rejoice heartily today recalling the very moment when all this work of God began, the moment of the conception of Mary, her Immaculate Conception.
And, finally, if we really share this beautiful faith of the Church in God’s plan for Mary, then we will cast aside all hesitation to turn to her as our true Mother in the order of Grace, and seek her help and guidance in this world as we struggle to become true Christians, true disciples of her Son. Believing in what happened to her, we will turn to Mary and ask her to teach us daily how to always say “yes” to God as she did, how to cooperate with His grace, as she did at every moment of her life. We will ask the New Eve not only how to say yes to everything God asks us to do, but also no to everything God forbids us to do. We must learn to ay constantly, not my will be done but thine, as Jesus said in the Garden, and as Mary said when God asked her to take her place in the work of redemption. She is the woman God chose to bless when He came to us; she must be the woman we choose to follow back to God in her Son.