“I am the Immaculate Conception” – 8 Dec 2014

These words are incomprehensible but show us the power and love of God. On the one hand, how was Mary preserved from the stain and separation of Original Sin? On the other hand, what is the meaning of those words spoken to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, “I am the Immaculate Conception?”

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they, who were created without sin (separation from God), decided to venture off on their own… without God. (We make that same choice several times a day: “Thank you, Lord, but I think I can handle this one on my own.”) They who walked and talked with God were duped into thinking they did not need Him and so chose to go it alone. That was the nature of their sin and it is that separation that each of us inherits by virtue of being descendants of Adam and Eve.

Christ died to atone not only for that first sin but for all of our sins of all time, to free us from the bondage that is sin, and to reunite us to God through the grace we receive in the Sacraments. At the instantaneous moment of Mary’s conception by her parents, Joachim and Anne, God bestowed on Mary the grace of Christ’s redeeming act even before Jesus was conceived in her! He can do this because He is outside time and not bound by chronology.

The second aspect is more difficult. Mary does not say to Bernadette, “I am immaculately conceived.” She says, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” St. Maximilian Kolbe* saw in these words a special relationship with the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity is the most central mystery of our faith and we try to understand it as the Father’s love begetting the Son, timelessly, and the love between Father and Son becoming the Holy Spirit. This is all eternal and without chronology – a difficult concept for our human minds to comprehend. This is why we cannot look on the face of God and live until we are free of our human bodies.

In this sense, St. Maximilian Kolbe sees the Holy Spirit as the first uncreated Immaculate Conception – sprung from the pure and untarnished love between the Father and Son in the Holy Trinity’s eternal existence. The grace that preserves Mary from Original Sin comes from the Holy Spirit and it is by His power that Jesus is conceived (Lk 1:35). In this spousal-like relationship, Kolbe sees Mary taking her identity from the Holy Spirit – in the same way a wife takes her husband’s name at marriage – when she says, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

It’s all about the power and love of God and there is an application for us Deacons in Mary’s faith, love, attitude and life.  Are we not called to be like her in her union with God?  Is what we do really our own or does it belong to God?  Who can know all the fruits of our work except God?  I sometimes wonder what Mary was feeling and thinking as she watched Jesus endure His passion and death.  Are there not times when we might feel that our work as Deacons is empty?  Are there not times when God seems distant?  Mary trusted God at all times, especially when she may not have fully understood his plan.  She made that commitment when she declared, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy will” (Lk. 1:38).  We can make that same commitment of trust by consecrating ourselves to Mary (read “33 days to Morning Glory”) who, in turn, takes us closer to Christ.  Our ministry is not ours; it is His.  We, like Mary, are His handmaids, His servants.  Our work bears fruit only through our prayerful union and trust in Him.

                                                  Deacon Richard

[ *For a more in-depth handling of this topic, read days 9, 10 and 11 of Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book, “33 Days to Morning Glory” published in 2011 by Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. ]

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