Homily: Immaculate Conception, 2008
Fr. Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
8 December 2008
Our Lady of the Angels Monastery
The great Spanish artist named Bartolome Esteban Murillo, painted numerous pictures of the Immaculate Conception. His famous one represents the Blessed Virgin Mary surrounded by cherubs and standing upon the crescent, her hands folded on her breast and her eyes turned upwards. It’s similar to the image that’s on the back of this vestment that I am wearing. El Maestro, as Murillo is called, never began a religious painting without prayer and penance. Also he founded an art school. He and his students always greeted one another with the salutation: “Praised be the most Holy Sacrament and the most Pure Conception of Our Lady.” “Praised be the most Holy Sacrament and the most Pure Conception of Our Lady.” What a great salutation to offer one another especially on this solemnity of the Immaculate Conception today.
Indeed, the Conception of our Lady is not only pure, but immaculate. Not only did Mary not commit any sin, but she was also preserved from Original Sin. And this is because of the mission to which God has entrusted for her from all eternity, that is to be the Mother of the Redeemer, the Mother of our Savior, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI mentioned, all this is contained in the truth of the faith of the Immaculate Conception. The biblical foundation of this dogma is found in the archangel’s words to Our Lady that we heard just now: “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you.” “Full of Grace” — there’s another passage in the New Testament, in the Book of Acts, which describes Stephen, the first martyr as “full of grace and power.” “Full of grace and power and he did great wonders and signs among the people.” Both books are written by the same author, Saint Luke. And even though in the English translation the phrase is the same, “full of grace” for Stephen, “full of grace,” for Mary, but yet in the Greek original, the meaning is different. Particularly on Our Lady’s case the one that is used is ‘kecharitomene.’ This indicates that God has already graced Mary previously to this point where the angel Gabriel announced to Our Lady of her vocation. God has already graced Mary; that’s her title “full of grace.” The archangel called Mary instead of by her name, but by her title, “full of grace.” God is making her, Our Lady, a vessel who has been and who is now filled with divine life. She is the Immaculate Conception. She is the Woman whom God put total enemy with the ancient serpent that her seed would crush that proud head of the ancient serpent, the devil.
In addition, the Immaculate Conception is also the patroness of the entire Franciscan Order. To be true Franciscans, you really have to be true Marians; otherwise you’re not Franciscans. Our Holy Father Saint Francis said, “I command all my brothers who are living now and who will live in the future always to praise the Mother of God, with every means to honor her everywhere as well as they are able and have recourse to her with the greatest respect and surrender.” That’s the words of our Holy Father Saint Francis.
And so the Franciscan subtle Marian doctor, Blessed John Dun Scotus, was very instrumental in helping the Church in living out what the Holy Father Saint Francis has called his sons to live and to do. Blessed John Dun Scotus was instrumental to help the Church to come to that holy definition of the Immaculate Conception. Some of the theologians, some of them are very popular, they argue or they question how can Mary be redeemed as if she never inherited Original Sin because the Lord is the Redeemer of all man. Scotus responded by saying; “She is redeemed as well by Jesus Christ. She is redeemed at her conception. She is redeemed in view of the merits of Christ on Calvary. She is redeemed ahead of time. Thus she is the first fruit of Our Lord’s work of redemption at Calvary.”
Just a little example: let’s say there’s a ditch. People goes through this one alley. Many of them don’t know there’s a ditch. But every time they go through this alley they keep on falling down. And then they have to yell out “help, help, help,” and somebody has to go over there and help the person who fell in the ditch. Where there’s another way of saving those from falling into the ditch. Before even falling, they tell them not to go through that alley, or just go from this side to preserve the persons from falling into the ditch. So this is the way Our Lord redeemed Our Lady ahead of time, even before He went to Calvary, even before He was conceived in her immaculate womb.
And today is also the anniversary of our dear sisters’ Order. A hundred fifty four years of the founding of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. So we want to remember the sisters in our prayers particularly for their anniversary and they are founded this day, on the same day Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
And in addition there is another celebration where one of their sisters, Sister Giselle, is going to be invested at the end of the Mass. And it’s been a great blessing and privilege for me. I used to offer the Spanish Mass every Sunday afternoon and in the beginning I got really frustrated because I’m used to going to Mass, offering Mass with singing as part of the Mass. But in the beginning there was no singing at all because I know no Spanish songs in my little head. And so I was praying to our Blessed Mother. I remember I asked her on Friday, “Please send someone to help me with this Spanish Mass, particularly with the Spanish songs.” That was Saturday. She didn’t waste any time. Next day, she sent Sister Giselle. She came up to me, and she offered herself; “Father if there’s anything I can help, I’m willing to help, just let me know.” So the first thing I asked, ‘do you sing?’ ‘I can do my best.’ And so she helped me. And so today is her investiture where she begins her novitiate. She will receive a new name; she will receive a new title.
And I think not only for Sister Giselle, but for all of us, we want to look to our Blessed Mother. It is a tough road to follow, a tough patroness to follow, the Immaculate Conception, the Queen of all Saints. So there’s going to be a lot demanded of you Sister, and a lot demanded of all of us by Our Lady, most especially to imitate her purity, to imitate her sinlessness, to imitate her holiness.
And I wanted to just mention some words of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, which I think Sister Giselle, was or is, I’m not certain on this, members of the MI, the Militia Immaculatae. Saint Maximilian said, “The loftiest of creatures is man. Of all men in turn, the Immaculata is the most perfect without the least sin, immaculate.” He said, “The Immaculata is the personification of the mercy of God. For that reason he who rises against her, pushes from himself that mercy and draws down upon himself the justice of God.” He said, “The little infant that draws away from his mother and refuses his mother’s breast will perish from hunger. In the same way, one who draws away from the Blessed Mother will perish from spiritual hunger.”
“So let us each one ask ourselves, whether we have worked during the year as much as we are able for the Immaculata, for the salvation and sanctification of our own souls, the souls of our neighbors. And whether our conscience reproaches us for laziness, for negligence, insufficient zeal and perhaps a lack of sacrifice. Let us look into ourselves and let today, December 8th be a day of regeneration for our souls, a renewal of zeal for furthering the heavenly and earthly kingdom of the most loving Queen, the Immaculate Conception.”