Today the Church proclaims the great truth that Christ’s Mother, the Mother of God, was conceived without original sin.
Original sin refers to the inclination that inheres in the human condition that darkens our intellect and positions our will so that we are susceptible to resist God’s will and purposes. St. Paul summarized this inclination in his lament that “the good that I want to do I do not do and the evil I should not do, I do”. Without God’s intervention, the human inclination to choose evil rather than good would subvert humanity completely. Original sin makes us vulnerable to dark powers, and frustrates God’s plan for humanity, indeed for all creation.
Though humanity is powerless to remedy the effects of original sin, God is not. God’s power is manifested in the Immaculate Conception of Christ’s Mother, the Mother of God.
The Church understands the Immaculate Conception to be a singular privilege, which means that it is an expression of God’s love for the woman who would be his mother, which is absolutely unique. None of us are or will ever be an Immaculate Conception. God loves all his creatures, but in terms of the woman who would be his mother, God loves her in a way that is different than the rest. This difference does not simply bring glory to the Mother of God, but to the whole of the human condition. The poet William Wordsworth signals this truth about God’s unique love for his Mother when he refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary as “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”.
The unique gift of the Immaculate Conception happens as a result of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s unique mission- she will alone be the Mother of God. Though we too will in our own unique ways bear the life and presence of God in Christ to others, the way in which the Mother of God does this is utterly singular, completely unique- and will always be as such.
Thus, for those Christians who contemplate the Immaculate Conception will experience awe and wonder at its truth. The Immaculate Conception is one the great mysteries of the revelation of God in Christ.
Because of the awe and wonder that the Immaculate Conception evokes, some might be inclined to think that such an extraordinary gift made the Mother of God’s life easier, but I think this would be a mistake. The gift, necessary for her mission, likely made her experience of life much more difficult, as her difference would have been perceived as strange, and her compassion for a world debilitated by sin would be heightened. Her life would have been an overture of love and mercy to a world that would be inclined to be suspicious of her intentions and refuse her offer of grace.
Perhaps the one consolation in all this would be her divine Son, but this love would always be bittersweet, for she would have perceived from the very beginning where his mission would take him and the terrible refusal he would receive for his own overtures of love and mercy.
The Immaculate Conception is a manifestation of God’s love, when the sinner encounters God’s love, his love is expressed as mercy, and without this mercy we cannot be saved, rescued, redeemed.
Thus, is the Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of Mercy, for through her the world is given Christ, whose mission is mercy.
Mercy is also the proclamation and invitation of the Holy Year, which begins today. A Holy Year is an invitation to the Church from the Holy Father (Pope Francis) to prayer, penance and pilgrimage. Pope Francis has declared a Holy Year of Mercy that begins today.
During this Holy Year, the Holy Father asks us specifically to return to a regular practice of the Sacramental Confession of our Sins and to dedicate ourselves to actively and intentionally perform the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
In other words, to repent of our sins, participate in the healing mercy of Christ in the Sacrament of Penance, and to share the mercy we have received from others in concrete, active, tangible, visible ways.
Inasmuch as we become bearers of Christ’s mercy to others, the mission of the Church (our mission) is brought to fulfillment.
Our experience of the forgiveness of Christ is not just an interior experience (we don’t just decide for ourselves “I am forgiven” but Christ forgives us and does so in the Sacrament of Penance) but is in fact a matter of regular participation in the Sacrament of Penance. Mercy is not just good intentions, donations to causes, or positive ideas or feelings. Mercy is a way of life and that way of life that looks like the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
The pilgrimage of mercy begins today and it is a journey of faith, hope and love. The door of the year of mercy leads within to the Sacrament of Penance and from there takes us out into the world as bearers of Christ’s Mercy to others.
May the Mother of God, the Mother of Mercy help us along our pilgrim way!