Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians 1: 3-6, 11-12; Luke 1: 26-38
In 1492, 519 years ago, Columbus discovered America. He sailed in a ship called Santa Maria de Conception (St. Mary, the Immaculate Conception). He named the first Island he landed San Salvador, in honor of our Savior. Columbus named the second island Conceptio in honor of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The fearless French Explorer Fr. Marquette who explored the 2300 miles long Mississippi River, flowing through ten states, called it River of Mary Immaculate. In fact, all the early American Catholics were so proud of the great truth we celebrate today that the American bishops in 1829 (25 years before the promulgation of the dogma) chose Mary Conceived Without Sin as the patroness of the United States. I wish you all a Happy Feast.
Nine months before our celebration of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we recall her own conception. Her parents are not mentioned in scripture, but there is an early tradition that they were named Joachim and Anne. Every human being, including Mary, needs the salvation brought by Jesus, but for the person of Mary, this salvation is already working in a special way and Mary is born free from all stain of original sin. Today in the Gospel we read the beautiful story of the Annunciation, the moment when Mary freely said ‘yes’ to the will of God expressed by the Angel. Now that Jesus the Savior has come, we are also called to freely say ‘yes’ to the will of God in our own lives.
Mary’s prophecy, given in her Magnificat, “Behold all generations will call me blessed,” was fulfilled when the Catholic Church declared four dogmas of faith about her: 1-Immaculate Conception, 2-Perpetual Virginity, 3-Divine Maternity, and 4-Assumption. The Immaculate Conception is a dogma based mainly on Christian tradition and theological reasoning. It was defined in 1854 by Pope Pius IX through Ineffabilis Deus: “From the first moment of her conception, Mary was preserved immune from original sin by the singular grace of God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, savior of the human race.” (CCC).
The Immaculate Conception is a dogma originating from sound Christian tradition. Monks in Palestinian monasteries started celebrating the “Feast of Conception of Our Lady” by the end of 7th century. The feast spread as the Feast of Immaculate Conception in Italy (9th century), England (11th century), and France (12th century). Pope Leo VI propagated the celebration and Pope Sixtus IV approved it as a feast. Finally, in 1854 Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be a dogma of faith. Mary herself approved it four years later by declaring to Bernadette at Lourdes: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
We look on the purity of Mary with admiration. She is the first believer in Jesus. She is the first Christian. We look on Mary as a model for us. Every day we struggle against temptation and sin, or because of events in the past that have hurt us. We can and should pray to Mary to help us on our journey, to help us fight temptation and sin. In our first reading we heard about Eve leading Adam into sin. Mary is the New Eve because at the Annunciation and all through her life Mary restored the relationship broken by the first Eve. She is the New Eve because she is the mother of all those born into new life through the grace in Christ. For this reason, another translation of Gen 3:15 in the first reading today reads as Mary crushing Satan’s head. In our moments of trial let us turn to Mary for help. She like us had to struggle with what it means to be a follower of Jesus.