Today the Church celebrates the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is the day we celebrate how Our Heavenly Mother was the first to receive the merits of her Divine Son’s Paschal Mystery. Unlike us, she was conceived without the taint of Eve’s sin coursing through her. Do we contemplate this great mystery? What it is to be conceived without Original Sin? To be free of the enslavement of sin is a tremendous gift Christ bestowed upon His mother.
We live in an age largely devoid of a true understanding of sin. There is no good or evil because each individual decides truth. If it is true or good for me, then it is not evil. In essence, this creates a system and moral law devoid of any truth. In fact, it is no moral law at all. In reality, sin makes us want to live in the mud. We think being human requires frolicking in the slop of evil. We call this good. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 2005 points out this error.
Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.
How often have we experienced this temptation? How often have people told us the exact same thing? According to far too many people, to be fully human is to sin. ‘You Catholics must live no life at all.’ It is “boring” to work towards sainthood. Our Heavenly Mother must have had no life at all. In reality, her life was much fuller than yours or mine because of the gift of being conceived without Original Sin.
Ontology trumps sin
When we are justifying sin, do we contemplate the contradiction: How could it be possible for us to become fully ourselves without God? At the ontological—being—level we are made for goodness and truth. We are made by, and for, God. It is sin that gets in the way of this communion and of our ordering to goodness, this ontological reality. Since God created us, there is no way for us to become fully human without Him.
Mary is the freest and most properly ordered human being ever to live, except her Son the God-man. She is not hindered by the temptations of the world. When God calls her, she turns in love, humility, and obedience. She is His handmaid because there is no one else or nothing else blocking the love she was truly made for in God. She is not blinded by inordinate self-love. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI states:
This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception: the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.
Mary abandons herself fully to God and she becomes the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven. What sin on earth could compare to such glorious gifts from the Divine Lover?
The goods of this world come from God
It is easy to allow ourselves to become blinded by the good things around us. There are plenty of goods in this world. God Himself says they are good, but tainting, using, or disordering those goods turns to evil. There becomes a deprivation of the good, and that can only lead to sin and death. God also uses the goods of this world to point us to Himself. We are not called to focus solely on here below without turning our eyes to the Creator. If we raise our eyes Heavenwards then we will see the glory of the greatest good: God. We cannot see Heaven if we do not lift our eyes to Him. The idea that sin is good, or that truth is set by the individual, forces people to look to the ground, to remain stuck.
In Dante’s Inferno from The Divine Comedy, Lucifer is trapped in ice and his great wings keep him frozen in the pit of Hell. He cannot fly upwards because he is trapped in evil. He is weighted down by his own pride and arrogance. He can no longer fly into the heights of goodness, as he could when stood before the Throne of God as a great seraph. His denial of God’s goodness and love has left him forever trapped. Turning from God adds tremendous weight and burden. Mary assumes upward towards God, while Lucifer descends and remains trapped by his unwillingness to serve. Mary’s fiat is the antithesis of Lucifer’s non serviam.
The Fallen world is evidence of the destructive nature of sin
This truth is evident to us based on the world around us. People who are trapped in evil are deeply unhappy, miserable, spiritually dead, and trapped. They are slaves to their own desires and wants. They think giving into their constant desires, using people, and the constant accumulation of material goods will bring them fulfillment. Far too many people deify themselves and end up becoming empty shells in the process. Sin is boring because it makes us self-centered, self-focused, and caved inwards. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI again:
If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.
It is not Mary who misses out on a full life. It is those who turn from God. Those who make themselves a god and those who remain in the muck of sin. This is why evangelization is so important in every age. We know true freedom and in charity we must share this truth with the world.
Mary is our model precisely because she reveals to us the joy, hope, and mystery of choosing to follow God. She demonstrates the need for humility and how God does great things through those who humble themselves before Him. She reveals trust by her fiat and her standing at the foot of the Cross. She always trusts God and in doing so she witnesses the glory of the Paschal Mystery. She shows us how to be fully alive. She shows us how to become a saint. She points us to our ontological make up. We are made for goodness and truth and the greatest love and joy we can ever know rests in communion with God.
We do not miss out on a full life by turning from sin. It is a constant battle to be sure since we are born with the taint of Original Sin–washed clean by Baptism—we must still do battle with temptation. Mary is a guide for how our lives should look. When we do sin, we go to Confession in humility. We pray and seek to trust God fully despite our fear, confusion, suffering, or pride. We look to her as the example of obedience to God and Holy Mother Church, even in matters we do not fully understand. We say “yes” when God calls us. Mary’s Immaculate Conception is a sign of God’s goodness and His great love for every single one of us. Mary, Immaculata, ora pro nobis.