[Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, during the monthly Respect Life Mass, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.]
Choosing: this human act is very familiar to each one of us. We make lots of choices often, if not daily.
The act of choosing is very evident in today's scripture readings. Our first reading from the book of Genesis records the fact that Adam and Eve made a choice to eat from the tree of which God had forbidden them to eat; they chose to disobey their Lord and Creator and thereby committed the first sin — original sin. But God chose to send a future Savior and Messiah, who would undo the effects of this sin. St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians, from which our second reading is taken, affirms that God chooses us in Christ "to be holy and without blemish before him," destining us, again by His choice, "for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ." Today's account from St. Luke's Gospel — the third reading — projects before us the Annunciation scene wherein we see and hear God's choosing Mary to be the Mother of His only-begotten Son, and Mary's choosing to do what God asks her, to obey His will – unlike Adam and Eve. Yes, the act of choosing is clearly reflected in our three readings today.
As I mentioned, every day we make choices. However, one act of choosing — one of our many choices — is absolutely crucial as we try to live as the adopted sons and daughters of God: are we choosing to be like Jesus and to do God's will? Does Mary's response echo in our choice: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word"?
We are early in this new Church year, which began on Dec. 2, on the First Sunday of Advent. Are we consciously choosing to allow the Holy Spirit to form us into Christ's image more clearly this year? The purpose of each Church year is to complete the formation of the faithful during the various seasons.
Are we choosing each day to imitate the example of our Blessed Mother, who placed her life at the service of God's plan? Yes, God prepared her for her vocation as the Mother of His Divine Son by giving her His divine grace at the first moment of her existence. She was from conception, so to speak, "already baptized," "full of grace" as the angel Gabriel stated. This is the meaning of today's Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
At our baptism, we received for the first time God's own life, divine grace. Are we choosing to avoid sin and to grow in God's grace through prayer, the reception of the sacraments and charitable outreach to the poor and needy?
Are we choosing to make time this Advent season to "prepare the way of the Lord," to make our souls more ready to receive the Lord Jesus as we relive His birth among us at Christmas? What prevents Jesus from being "at home" within our hearts? What needs to be removed? What needs to be added?
As we gather to celebrate Our Blessed Mother's Immaculate Conception, we are also taking part in our monthly Respect Life Mass. We gather in this intentional way each month to reaffirm our commitment to be "for life." This commitment is rooted in our conscious and unwavering choice to witness to the Gospel of Life, not only in this tangible manner once a month, but also on each day of each month as we pray and do penance, study and reflect, discuss and persuade — always witnessing to the truth about life and the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death. In his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote: "Together we all sense our duty to preach the Gospel of life, to celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence, and to serve it with the various programs and structures which support and promote life" (No. 79).
In today's Gospel account, we hear Our Blessed Lady saying "yes" to God's invitation to be the Mother of His Son — a "yes" which flowed from her act of choosing to do God's will. During this sacred liturgy, as we recall Our Lady's Immaculate Conception and seek to imitate her choosing to be faithful to the will of God, we too say "say" to God's invitation to proclaim the Gospel of Life by our daily witness.
O Blessed Lady, "full of grace," help us to choose each day to be like Jesus your Son and to do God's will. Patroness of these United States under the title of the Immaculate Conception, strengthen us and all of our fellow citizens to treasure the gift of human life from conception to natural death. Soon — very soon — may this great nation be a place, not where death dominates, but where life triumphs! Mary Immaculate, you always chose to be faithful to God and to His holy will. Help us to do the same every day! O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Amen.