Friday, December 08, 2017

Being Immaculate: An Experience for Mary, an Expectation for Us

(Immaculate Conception 2017: This homily was given on December 8, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Luke 1: 26-38.)

[For the audio versioon of this homily, click here: Immaculate Conception 2017]

If you look up the word “immaculate” in the dictionary, you’ll find definitions like these:
  • 1.    Having no stain or blemish.
  • 2.    Pure.
  • 3.    Undefiled.
  • 4.    Having or containing no flaw or error.
  • 5.    Spotlessly clean.
  • 6.    Correct or perfect in every way.

For our Blessed Mother Mary, being immaculate was an experience; for you and for me, being immaculate is an expectation.

And that’s the difference between Mary and us in a nutshell.

Her “immaculateness” began to be experienced at the moment she was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Ann—which is the event we commemorate on this feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Remember, the Immaculate Conception does NOT refer to the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary—which is what many people mistakenly believe.  The event that led to Jesus’ virginal conception is called “the Annunciation.”

The Immaculate Conception prepared Mary for the Annunciation and for everything that came afterward, but the Immaculate Conception itself refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother.  Here’s how Pope Pius IX defined the dogma: “the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin.”

But Mary’s immaculateness didn’t stop there.  It continued throughout her life and into eternity!  She said yes to God at every moment of her life and consequently never sinned.  She was, as the angel Gabriel said, “Full of grace.”  And so, all those definitions of “immaculate” that I listed a few minutes ago apply to her entire life, spiritually speaking: she had no stain or blemish (on her soul); she was pure, and undefiled, and without flaw, and spotless—and morally perfect!

Now this is something we can understand intellectually—that Mary was born without original sin and was free from sin throughout her entire life.  But that’s as far as we can go, because we don’t have an experience of “immaculateness” in our earthly lives that’s comparable to Mary’s. 

The closest we come to it is at the moment of our baptism, when original sin is taken away and we receive the gift of sanctifying grace into our soul.  But even then—even after we’re baptized—we still have to deal with concupiscence, which remains in us even after original sin is taken away.  Mary never had to deal with concupiscence because she never contracted original sin in the first place.

Concupiscence is the inclination to sin—the inclination to sin that we all experience every day.  It’s what St. John was alluding to when he wrote about “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”  It’s what St. Paul was getting at when he spoke of “the flesh” rebelling against “the spirit”.

Concupiscence is what got Matt Lauer and Al Franken and Harvey Weinstein into trouble recently.  Concupiscence is what makes it so easy for us to lie, and cheat. and steal, and swear and hold grudges—and make excuses for our sins.

This is why I said at the beginning of my homily that for our Blessed Mother Mary being immaculate was an experience (it was a spiritual condition she lived in), but for us it’s something different.  For us, being immaculate is an expectation (that is to say, it’s something we look forward to in faith!).

We won’t be immaculate in the sense that Mary was immaculate until we get to heaven and are finally purified of every sin and of every sinful desire.  In a sense, that’s the bad news.  But the good news is we can grow closer to that goal right now in this life, if we make our relationship with Jesus our top priority and repent of our sins often (yet another reason to go to confession on a regular basis).

The “collect”—the opening prayer—of today’s Mass said it perfectly.  It made reference both to Mary’s experience of being immaculate and our expectation of being made so.  We heard these words a few moments ago:
O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son, grant [that] … through her intercession, we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence.
So today let our simple prayer be, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, that our expectation of becoming immaculate like you will someday be fulfilled.  Amen.”