December 8, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Reading I (Genesis 3:9-15, 20) Reading II (Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12)
Gospel (Saint Luke 1:26-38)
Today we celebrate the glorious solemnity of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. There may be a slight bit of confusion as to why today is a holy day of obligation when the bishops have declared that when a holy day falls on a Saturday or a Monday it is no longer a holy day. There is one exception to that: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; and that is because today is the patronal feast day of the United States. So no matter what day this particular feast falls on, it still remains as a holy day of obligation in this country. Thanks be to God! because today is indeed a glorious feast.
We stop to think about what God has done for Our Blessed Lady in allowing her to be conceived without Original Sin to be able to know that there is one person in all of our human race that is truly perfect. Each one of us, Saint Paul told us in the second reading, is made for the praise of the glory of God, but there is only one person who has ever existed solely for that purpose. Each one of us, although we are made for that purpose, is so weak from our own sinfulness that it takes years and years and years to get to the point of being able to live that way. And even out of all of humanity there is only a handful that have ever actually been able to achieve that, to become so holy and so perfect that they can be truly without spot or blemish, that they can be holy before God.
Most of us are not able to say that. We are conceived with sin. We have committed, of course, many, many sins in our lifetime, and the effects of those sins weigh us down. As much as we want to do what is right and as much as we want to exist for the glory of God, we know how difficult it is for us to do. We start out with very good intentions sometimes of being able to live this way, and then within minutes, most often, we fall flat on our face. Not necessarily that we have committed a mortal sin, but we find that instead of existing for the glory of God most of us struggle with existing for our own glory. We like to get caught up in ourselves rather than being caught up in God.
But for Our Blessed Lady, never for one single instant did she do anything other than the Will of God. Never once was there even an impatient thought that went through her mind. Never once did she get angry at anyone. Never once did she do anything that was even in the slightest way selfish. Now this is something that none of us can even begin to think of because it is so far from our own reality. But in order to prepare a fitting place for the Incarnation of the Son of God, God our Father made a suitable place in the heart and soul and the body of Our Blessed Lady, a place where Jesus Christ would be able to be conceived, a place where there would be no sin on the face of this earth.
And so, for each one of us, as we see that Eve was called her name because she was the mother of all the living, how much more do we need to praise God and glorify Him for the one who is truly the mother of all of those who are spiritually alive in Christ. Our Lady, from the first moment of her existence, always glorified God as perfectly as she was able to do. And because each time that we do something which is in accordance with the Will of God we are therefore in the very next instance able to love God even more, to do even more for the Lord, so at every single instant of her life Our Lady was able to do more. She always did as much as she was possibly able to do in loving God. But because at each instant she loved God as perfectly as possible, that opened her heart to be able to love Him even more perfectly in the next instance. And so she did.
So it is for us to know that there is one person in our race who has truly lived a perfect life, the one who was greeted not by her given name, Mary, but by the very essence, really, of what she was about: She was greeted as simply “Full of Grace”. There was nothing in her that was lacking. Her fullness of grace is not the same as that of Jesus because Jesus is grace itself. Our Lady always grew in grace. At each instant, as she was able to love God more, she also was able to receive more grace. Jesus, on the other hand, is grace itself because sanctifying grace is the life of God and Jesus is God. To call Mary “Full of Grace” is not to say that she is God in any way. She is one of us. And yet because there was not sin, at every instant of her life she was as full of grace as she possibly could have been.
We can come to her and learn from her because she is our mother who wants to form each one of us so that we can overcome sin and its effect in our lives, so that we too can be holy and without blemish before God, so that we too can truly exist for the glory of God, for the praise of His glory. That is the purpose of our creation. It is the purpose, ultimately, of our re-creation in Christ, our rebirth. Now it is simply for us to live it. It can be done; the saints have all demonstrated that and Our Lady, above all, has demonstrated it perfectly.
And if we are going to exist for the praise of God’s glory, we also need to be able to glorify Him for the gifts that He has given to His human creatures. As we look into our own lives and we see what is lacking, we sometimes get jealous or envious of the gifts that God has given to other people. Tragically, we sometimes even do that with regard to Our Blessed Lady. But what we need to do is to see that God created her for a very specific purpose – to be the mother of His Son – and in order to do what God was calling her to do, He also gave her the gifts that were necessary for her to be able to live that out. From the very first instant of her life, He created her without Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, the one who crushed the head of Satan, and the one who out of love for each one of us draws us into her own Immaculate Heart to unite us with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to take part in crushing Satan’s head. Rather than being upset or jealous or envious of what God has given to her, we, once again, need to praise His glory for what He has done for her. And what He has done for her, we are the ones who benefit from it. So we should not be upset, but we should be so grateful as we look at the glory of God shining on the face and in the heart of Our Lady; and, with her, glorify Him to the fullness of our being in this life so that forever we will truly be able to be holy and without blemish and exist solely for the praise of His glory.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.