1st Saturday of Advent
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary
We celebrate today the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary conceived without original sin. When we think of original sin, what comes to mind are its effects – suffering, pain, sickness, ignorance, all the evils of the world of course the granddaddy of them all – death. But what does being born in original sin mean? I think an image might help us.
A plant needs plenty of sunlight to grow. Bathed in sunlight the plant grows tall and strong and confident. Now consider a thought experiment, you take a growing plant and place it in a dark room. This is bad news for a plant. Imagine now, that somehow at the base of its roots, the plant senses a pinpoint of light. It is not much. Just a pinpoint of light. The plant will slowly bend on itself and grow hungrily towards the light. I say this is a thought experiment. The plant in the dark room would grow in a grotesque fashion. But it would not know any better because it has never experienced the sunlight. It would not know what is normal.
Now the sunlight is the connection to the love of God. The plant is the fertilized human egg at conception. The dark room is being cut off from the sunlight of God. All of us who are born into original sin, are deprived of this love and connection to God from the moment of conception. For nine months of our life we have been growing in the womb minus the most essential element for our growth. The relationship to God and His love. The pinpoint of light is the faint light of the self. What happens is predictable. Being unable to expand out into love to God, we shrivel up into ourselves. Not having the foundation that brings the most security to us, we become our own security. This is not conscious but it is felt at the level of our flesh and nerves. The terror, the dread is locked away deep in our bodies. And it shows itself in our fundamental lack of trust in reality. At the deepest level there is a sense of abandonment – the source of our fear. As Dom Erik put it, there is a voice that plays over and over again in our heads – ‘You are irredeemably alone. No light can ever pierce your darkness.’ We become creatures of this lie. The mistrust sown by the devil right from the beginning is part of our inheritance.
Think of the temptation in Eden. The devil’s first words are framed in the form of question. It is the question that becomes the wedge of mistrust. ‘Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ How strange? How could he say such a thing if He really loved you? Think about it. Have you ever considered that He might actually have a hidden agenda? Why would God say this unless He really fears you might become like Him, right? Have you ever considered that He might have created you, not out of love but because He loves puppets on a string. This, my brothers and sisters is the lie written into our DNA for those 9 months in the womb. Baptism brings us back into the sunlight again but it takes a lifetime of conversion to even begin to trust God. To shake off from our very nerves and sinews, the downward pull of mistrust and resentment.
Now consider Mary. From the first moment of her conception she is in the sunlight. At the core of her being basks in the warmth of the Father. It luxuriates in it. We can have absolutely no idea of what this is like. It is like talking to a one year old about quantum physics. Mary therefore trusts the Father with her whole person. She does not hedge her bets. The angel comes to her and Mary is not startled. It is as if she has been waiting for the angel. She is troubled at his words because of her humility. The dialogue with the angel has always struck me because of the confidence and maturity of Mary as she goes back and forth with him. This is a teenager remember. There is the strength and assurance of the true child of the Father. And finally her utter trust is shown in her last words to the angel. Let it be done to me according to your word. Whose word – the very Word of God. Mary’s Yes is not limited by her own clarifications. Her yes contains the inexhaustible mind of God. It is as deep and wide as the mind of God Himself. This is scary and yet Mary surrenders. This is trust – when you have the confidence you will be most yourself precisely in giving yourself away.
We poor banished children of Eve have a hard time with this. We struggle with trust and resentment when it comes to God. We are marked by this because the lie has burrowed so deep into us. Only Mary who has trust at the core of her being, Mary the true child of the Father can teach us how to truly trust the Father once again. This is our great conversion and in this Mary is truly the star of the sea.