Immaculately Conceived

First Reading: Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Psalm: Psalm 98:1-4
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

A shoeshine boy was working hard at his job of shining shoes. A silver medal danced at his neck as he slapped his shine cloth again and again across the shoes of a man.

After watching the medal for a while, the man said curiously, “Boy, what’s that thing around your neck?” “It’s a medal of the mother of Jesus,” said the boy. “But why her medal?” asked the man, “She’s no different from your mother.” “You could be right,” said the boy, “But there’s sure a big difference between her son and me.”

The man knocked the ashes from his cigar, slapped a twenty-peso bill in the boy’s hand, and walked off. That boy’s answer was not only good diplomacy, but also good theology. And both are sometimes necessary in talking to non-Catholics about Mary.

Many Protestants also recognize that Mary is somebody special. For example, the Protestant poet William Wordsworth once called Mary “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” Wordworth’s beautiful phrase explains why Catholics celebrate today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception. It’s because Mary is indeed “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” She alone was preserved from sin.

Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant reformation in Germany. He had a great devotion to Mary. Not only did he write about her extensively, but he also kept a statue of her in his office. Years after Luther broke with the Church, Lutherans continued to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854. It holds that Mary was untouched by sin from the moment of her conception. In other words, she was born free from original sin and remained free from sin the rest of her life.

Belief in the Immaculate Conception is as old as Christianity itself, and is also in perfect agreement with the teaching of the Scripture. For example, take today’s first reading. There, God says to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” Christians have universally held that the woman referred to is ultimately Mary, and that the offspring is ultimately Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading, the Angel Gabriel says to Mary, “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter…. Blessed are you among women.” The Angel’s salutation puts Mary in a class by herself, above all women of the world.

When you think of it, it’s only fitting that God should protect Mary from sin. After all, she would be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. And isn’t it fitting that the Son of God should be born of a sinless mother?

We in the Philippines always have a special devotion to Mary. Our country is consecrated to her under the title of the Immaculate Conception. And so, today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception with special joy and gratitude. For it is, in a special way, “our” feast.

“Heavenly Father, you offer us abundant grace, mercy, and forgiveness through your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to live a grace-filled life as Mary did by believing in your promises and by giving you my unqualified “yes” to your will and to your plan for my life.”