Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and nothing says “Welcome to Advent!” better than a little Marian doctrinal controversy. This is a hotly contested doctrine that can seem superfluous to some. Was it not enough that Mary conceived of Jesus by the Holy Spirit? Why was she conceived immaculately? What support do we have for this? And what the heck does that mean anyway!? As we begin this season of preparation and anticipation for the second coming of Christ, the Church invites us to reflect upon Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother and how she shows us how to invite Jesus into our lives. Mary is an excellent example of what our Advent preparation should look like so let’s take a closer look at her Immaculate Conception.
The Immaculate Conception is Mary’s conception without the stain of original sin. It is often confused with the conception by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, but that would mean an awfully short pregnancy for Mary. The Church teaches that Mary was conceived in the standard human form, yet God intervened to save her from original sin. Now this seems like a difficult thing to prove, yet a common support is the angel Gabriel’s greeting “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Lk 1:28) Mary was “full of grace” meaning there was no barrier between her and the font of grace, the Father. She received in full the grace to live a life of virtue and to live without sin. It is fitting for Mary to be without sin, but it does not seem necessary that Jesus be born of an immaculate woman. The necessity of the Immaculate Conception comes in a different way.
As the title states, it was completely necessary for Mary to be without the stain of original sin. Why…? So her yes could be a free and complete yes! Imagine for a minute that you are in the position of Mary. Gabriel has just told you that you are to conceive by the Holy Spirit and become the mother of the Son of the Most High. What are some reasons that may lead you to say yes or no?
- God told me to do it. (fear)
- I could be the mother of God! (pride)
- This will find me favor with God. (selfishness)
- Everyone will look down at me. (self-centeredness)
- But what about my relationship with Joseph? I have my own life. (lust or lack of trust)
- Sounds like a lot of work and responsibility. (sloth)
This is not what we normally think about when we think of the Annunciation, but for a regular human these types of temptations may go through your mind. The temptation of pride, comfort, lust, and selfishness can all sway our decision making and lead us against our will. Mary, however, was not a regular human due to her immaculate conception. She was free from all of these temptations that could have swayed her decision. Thus, Mary’s decision was completely and fully her free will. This full freedom to say yes without any temptation was completely necessary for the conception of Jesus. It allowed her to truly conform her will to God’s. “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk:38)
Mary spoke on behalf of all humans in a way that we could not speak for ourselves. She accepted the invitation with full freedom, without any coercion, fear, or pride. Her “yes” was completely her own. Only Adam and Eve before her had the ability to speak without coercion, fear, or pride. Adam and Eve spoke freely on behalf of humanity leading us all to sin and death. Mary spoke freely on behalf of humanity leading us all to new life in Christ. Her immaculate conception was necessary to give her the freedom to undo the “no” of Adam and Eve with her full and complete “yes!”
Let us follow Mary as an example this Advent as we prepare to celebrate the fruit of her “yes” and ready ourselves for the second coming. Let us accept God’s mercy in the sacrament of confession so He can free us from the sin that clouds our will. Let us always be vigilant and blameless so when Jesus comes again, we have the ability to follow the example of Mary and give God our full “yes.”