Today, we celebrate not the Immaculate Conception of Jesus, but the Immaculate Conception of Mary, his mother, which celebrates the dogmatic belief that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to be our Savior, and gave to him a human mother who was chosen before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight. Of this wonderful church teaching, Pope Benedict says in his current encyclical, Spe Salvi:
With a hymn composed in the eighth or ninth century, thus for over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, the Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea”: Ave maris stella. Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by-people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14) (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 49).
Mary was chosen from the beginning to be the Star of Hope, the one who lived within this present moment to be a part of God’s plan to bring the world to salvation. And if anyone had the right to live outside the present moment, it would have had to be Mary. How many would react at age 14 with faith when confronted by the prospect of unplanned pregnancy under circumstances that were, at best, murky? If she got caught up in thinking how she would explain this to her parents, loved ones, friends, neighbors, and certainly her fiancé, we would have to understand that reaction, wouldn’t we? If she got stuck in thinking about how this would negatively impact her life and the plans that she had, we would surely know her pain.
But she didn’t. She was brought body and soul into God’s plan for the world and in a moment, expressed her faith – her fiat – and never looked back. She didn’t think about what was coming her way, or what tomorrow would look like, or who would take care of her if Joseph left her, or what the people at synagogue would think. She got caught up instead in the present moment, and with simple faith said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
That fiat – that living in the present moment – made Mary the Star of Hope for all of us. God used that fiat moment of faith to burst into a world darkened by sin and overtake the gloom with the bright light of his love. Just like a light shining in darkness, Mary became a light in the darkness of a world bogged down in death, leading us to the Light of Grace, the Light of the World, the Salvation of us all.
Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin because the Star of Hope had to be bright enough so that she could let the Light of the World shine through. God selected Mary from the beginning and gave her a taste in salvific grace so that we could all see the light of what is to come for all of us one day.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Mary, Did You Know?” If you don’t know it, go out and find a recording of it today. The lyrics are so incredibly touching, and they express a lot what we believe about Mary. Here’s a sample:
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
has come to make you new;
the child that you delivered
will soon deliver you?
But I have one quarrel with the theology. That last line: “the child that you delivered will soon deliver you” is wrong based on the theology of today’s feast. The feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates that Mary has already been delivered by the death and resurrection of Christ – before those things ever happened – and makes possible that all of us will soon be delivered. That’s okay, I’ll still listen to the song anyway!
And I’ll still listen to the song because it reminds me that Mary’s simple act of faith, her living in the present moment, was a burst of joy to a world that had been starved of it. I was at a workshop on Wednesday in which the presenter said, “Without Mary’s act of faith, salvation history might have gone poorly.” But thanks be to God, we won’t ever have to know a history like that, and we can look to Mary, the Star of Hope, to lead us to the great Light of the World.
Loving Mother of God, Star of Hope, Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.