Today the Church marks an important feast day. Moved to Monday because of its conflict with Sunday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is often misunderstood and therefore requires some explanation.
During this season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, the Catholic tradition highlights the role of Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus, in the history of salvation. This is why this Marian feast day of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated just weeks before Christmas. And rightfully so, given the place she holds on that holy night in that simple stable when Jesus came into the world as a human person. But the feast is, in some sense, less about the person of Jesus and more about the person of Mary. What we celebrate the doctrine that Mary was conceived in her own mother’s womb without the stain of original sin. “But”, you might say, “I thought we were remembering that Mary conceived Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.” While this too is the teaching of the Church, it is not the reason we celebrate on the Feast of Immaculate Conception.
Instead we recall that, from the very moment of her own conception, Mary was chosen by God to live out her life as the mother of Jesus Christ. In preparation for that, God shielded her soul from original sin and therefore set her apart as one called by God for a special purpose on earth. Perhaps the Orthodox tradition sums it up best in referring to Mary as the THEOTOKOS – literally translated, “She who gave birth to God.” For Catholics, this reality is a profound one and it causes us to reflect on our own callings in life and our own purpose for living. Indeed God has called each one of us from the moment of our conception to live a life of holiness no matter what our faith tradition might be. How we respond is measured each day in our words and in our actions. Like Mary we are called to listen attentively to what God wants of us and to respond with a resounding “yes” as she did. So on this feast day when we reflect on the conception of Mary and not on the conception of Jesus, we ponder our own lives and the vocation to which we have been called. How have we responded to God and to one another?