Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The readings for the day can be found here.
When the angel Gabriel sees Mary in today’s gospel, he recognizes that the Lord is with her. It isn’t Gabriel who brings God to Mary, nor does Gabriel predict that God will be with Mary: in a glance, he knows that God is already with Mary. The way the encounter unfolds makes it clear that Mary was not expecting God to enter her life so dramatically. So she’s surprised, she’s confused, perhaps she’s even scared. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But Mary is also open to God’s invitation: probably without really understanding what the Lord is asking of her, she says yes. She says yes because she is already the handmaid of the Lord, because to serve the Lord is the sincerest desire of her heart. She says yes because God is the one asking, not because she necessarily understands what she is being asked to do.
For a long time, I didn’t know what to make of Mary. She has so many titles. There are so many doctrines about her. People love her so deeply. And I didn’t get it. I understood how important she was, but I didn’t understand how to relate to her. The breakthrough came for me when I realized that I liked her. I realized that Mary was not only very human, but that she was someone whose friendship I wanted. God asked a lot of Mary in her life and offered her little explanation, and yet she loved God without hesitation. She was bold enough to question how she could possibly be pregnant, but humble enough to allow God to work in her regardless. When she didn’t understand something, she pondered it in her heart. She was devoted, courageous, and thoughtful.
Church teaching about the Immaculate Conception—that Mary was free from original sin from the moment she was conceived in her mother’s womb—can be confusing because it can make us think that Mary had no choice, that what God accomplished through her was something God did to, instead of with, her. But that isn’t what it is about at all. Rather, the Immaculate Conception proclaims that God, who knew who Mary would be long before she was ever born, gave her the grace she needed so that she could fulfill the deepest desire of her heart. When Gabriel recognizes that the Lord is with her, he lets us know that in the ordinariness of Mary’s life before the Annunciation, she continually chose to live in God’s presence, to love and serve the Lord in the small ways she could.
As we wait for Christ to come, we can be like Mary. Mary’s life testifies to the fact that God does not need majesty and power to be present in the world. The Lord is already here among us and longs for our yes—so that he can give us the grace we need to fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts.
Thomas Flowers, S.J. is a Jesuit scholastic working on a master’s degree in history with an emphasis on Early Modern Europe. He is also the author of two books of scripture reflections: God’s Invitation: Meditations on a Covenant Relationship and Walking Humbly: Scripture Meditations in Verse.