Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

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St. Joseph Church, Mishawaka

December 8, 2021

The Year of St. Joseph ends today. It began one year ago on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It began on Dec. 8,, since that was the date 150 years ago when Blessed Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph the Patron of the universal Church. I came here this evening to celebrate this Mass at the end of the Year of St. Joseph since your parish has St. Joseph as its patron saint. We celebrate his spouse, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, whom he loved with all his heart and whom he protected, along with their Son Jesus. The Church throughout the world celebrates today Mary’s Immaculate Conception and it is a special day for us since the Immaculate Conception is the patroness of our diocese and of our country. May Mary Immaculate and her most chaste spouse, St. Joseph, intercede for all of us, all the parishioners of your parish, of our diocese, and for all the Catholic faithful of our nation.

From the very beginning of history, God, in His infinite mercy, desired to save the human race. “After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil” (Pope Francis). As we heard in our first reading from the book of Genesis: “the Lord God said to the serpent: … I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” God in His mercy put enmity between Satan and his offspring and the woman and her offspring. In the Hebrew original. “enmity” means complete and radical opposition. How did God put enmity, complete and radical opposition between the devil and the woman? He preserved a woman from any stain of sin. That woman was Mary. In His mercy, God did not allow her to inherit the condition of original sin. If she would have inherited this condition and participated in the disorder and corruption that the rest of us inherit from Adam and Eve, then she would have been at least partially under the sway of Satan and evil. There would not have been the complete enmity between the woman and the serpent that God in His mercy had promised.

God poured out His grace upon Mary from the first moment of her existence. This is the Immaculate Conception. That is why, at the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel addressed Mary as “full of grace.” She is the only human person ever addressed this way in the whole Bible. Mary received a special gift from God, not due to any merit on her part, but on the basis of the merits of her Son. God the Father applied the graces of His Son’s passion and death, which He foreknew, to Mary at the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb. God created her soul to be the masterpiece of His mercy in the world. He made an immaculate vessel to receive His Son into the world. The Father, rich in mercy, sent His Son to save us, to be our Redeemer. And He saved Mary, a daughter of Israel, in a unique way, applying the grace of redemption to her at the moment of her conception.

Mary’s Immaculate Conception was truly an extraordinary grace, to prepare her for her special vocation of being the Mother of God Incarnate, the Mother of the Redeemer. She said “yes” to that vocation in those unforgettable words: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” On behalf of Israel and of all humanity, Mary said “yes” to God at the Annunciation. She said “yes” to the Incarnation of His Son. Throughout her life, Mary always said “yes.” She never said “no.” She never sinned. At the foot of the cross, she said the most difficult “yes,” “yes” to the redemption of the world through the death of her deeply beloved Son.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the masterpiece of God’s mercy in the world. No other creature manifests God’s mercy as does this lowly virgin of Nazareth. And no one has responded with greater faith in God and His mercy than Mary. We celebrate our Blessed Mother today as the woman filled with God’s grace, “entirely holy and free from all stain of sin, adorned from the first instant of her conception with the radiance of an entirely unique holiness” (LG 56).

In the second reading today, we are reminded that the sanctifying grace bestowed upon Mary at the first moment of her existence is bestowed in Christ on all believers for, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” Today we not only admire the holiness of Mary – we also consider our own vocation to holiness. God set us free from sin at our Baptism. He calls us to be holy, to live in His grace, to live in friendship with Him. He continues to give us the grace and strength to conquer sin’s influence in our lives after Baptism. He forgives us our sins and strengthens us with His grace every time we go to confession. He gives us an increase of grace every time we receive Holy Communion. The Lord desires that we live in His grace, in His love. He desires our happiness and peace. In striving to live our vocation to holiness, we have the greatest model in the life of our Immaculate Mother Mary. We are called to imitate her virtues. Her prayers help us to grow in holiness. Mary at our side inspires us to aspire to goodness and to fight against temptations to sin.

On this beautiful feast today, it is good to think about our relationship with Mary. Are we close to her? Do we practice devotion to her? I encourage your Marian devotion. Mary is an advocate of grace for us. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the Blessed Virgin was so full of grace that it overflows onto all mankind.” It certainly overflowed onto St. Joseph. In every situation of struggle or danger in our lies, we can find refuge in Mary. She is involved in our salvation. Love for Mary helps us tremendously to live a deep spiritual life as true disciples of her Son.

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Juan Diego. I end this homily with the words Our Lady said to him and put into his heart. I invite all of you to receive these words into your heart and remember them, especially in difficult times in your lives. Mary says: “Am I not here, I, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”