Prov. 8:22-35; Lk. 1:26-28
Today, we celebrate the cherished belief from time immemorial, and defined by Bd. Pope Pius IX in 1854, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free from original sin from the first moment of her conception, by a unique grace and favor of God, in view of the foreseen merits of Christ in His cross, in order to fulfill her role in salvation history.
When our Lord speaks of the Kingdom of God in the Gospels, He speaks of the farmer who goes out and plants the seed in his field. He works hard. He goes out day after day, watering it, cultivating it. The farmer is a man of faith, because he knows that for all his efforts, the growth takes place by a power not his own.
That is what this solemnity is all about, something not our own, but a gift which has been given to us. We cannot of our human efforts alone bring about the Kingdom of God, much less our own redemption. The work of redemption is the work of God, and even our human instrumentality begins with His grace. Sin is a separation from God, it is saying no to God. And so God intervened to free the Blessed Virgin Mary from sin so that in the Gospel episode which we see today, she would have the surpassing freedom to be able to say yes to God in her role in the work of redemption.
There is drama in this episode. The Angel Gabriel appears and greets Mary. As the Gospel continues, she is unsettled as to what the meaning of this greeting might be. The angel tells her she is to become the mother of the savior. But she wonders because she has not known man, and the angel tells her the Holy Ghost will overshadow her and the child will be called Son of God. Everything is in the balance. All of creation waits, as it were, breathlessly, her response, and finally she gives her fiat: she is the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word. And the whole work of redemption is set in motion.
I said yesterday that in every other religion it is the person who seeks redemption from God, sometimes sacrificing bulls and goats and animals to achieve that end, which is ineffectual. But in our Catholic faith it is God who takes the initiative to redeem humanity, and His Son sacrifices Himself, the acceptable offering for salvation. And how beautifully and with what dignity His plan unfolds, through the freedom and love of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This solemnity places us with her in this moment, where with great joy, and gratitude, and love, we hear her say yes to the Lord.