The Immaculate Conception
Fr. Shannon M. Collins, CPM
December 8 - Immaculate Conception
"Father You prepared the Virgin Mary to be the worthy mother of Your Son. You let her share beforehand in the salvation Christ would bring by His death, and kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception. Help us by her prayers to live in Your presence without sin" (Collect).
i. Near the cell of St. Francis of Assisi a locust had set up a home on a fig tree. One day Holy Father Francis lovingly called out to the bug to come near. It came immediately and sat upon his hand. Francis said to the bug —Sing, my sister Locust, and praise the Lord with jubilation Who has created you. Obediently the bug began to sing and it continued as long as the saint joined his song with hers. And then, after a duet of sorts, Francis told the locust to return to its home. Gratitude towards the Most High — thanksgiving to the God Who saves us — this was a constant theme of St. Francis' life. There was also the time that St. Francis preached a powerful homily to a flock of birds. My sister birds, he said, you owe God much gratitude, and ought always and everywhere to praise and exalt Him. Francis then went on to give the birds reasons for gratitude — you can fly — you have beautiful feathers — you sow not and neither do you reap but God feeds you and gives you rivers and springs to drink from — finally, He gives you trees and to build your nests in. The Holy Friar then warned the birds, Watch therefore well, my sister birds, that you are not ungrateful, but busy yourselves always in praising God. But after this powerful sermon, all those little birds began to open their beaks, to beat their wings, and to stretch out their necks. And then in an act of thanksgiving and adoration, the birds bowed their heads reverently to the earth.
ii. But the greatest song of thanksgiving ever sung was that of Our Lady. Her Magnificat — My Soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord... is a hymn of such appreciation for the Almighty Who did such great things for her. Mother Marie of St. Clare, the foundress of the P.C.P.A.s, pondered the mystery of the Visitation when Christ Jesus resided in the womb of Mary, His Mother: Jesus is still In the womb of His Mother and He cannot express what is hidden in His soul — stated Mother Marie of St. Clare —And so He whispers it to His Holy Mother and it passes through her heart to her virginal lips — Mary sings of her blessings, and she, first of all, begins the songs of thanksgiving. Today in the Holy Liturgy we remember the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary — a mystery of grace that preserved her from any stain of Original Sin when she was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. And Mary does not fail to give thanks for this singular privilege of grace and mercy.
iii. Proofs regarding this belief can be found in Holy Scripture — Genesis 3:15, the Protoevangelium — the first seed of the Gospel, for example, states that God will establish enmity — an enemy relationship between a woman to come and the serpent — between Mary and Satan. But if Mary were conceived in Original Sin, then there would not be a relationship of enmity present — for if she were without grace she would be in Satan's camp. No, it would not be right that she who was to crush and conquer
Satan would first be crushed by him. A prophecy pointing to our Lady in the Song of Songs states the following about the fair bride of the Divine Bridegroom: You are all beautiful my love, and there is no blemish in you. And certainly we can cite St. Luke's Holy Gospel where Mary is spoken of as being gratia plena — full of grace. True fullness of grace would be lacking if she came into this world in sin. The Fathers of the Church — those great teachers of the early centuries — affirm the tradition of the Immaculate Conception. One father writes: He who formed the first virgin Eve without deformity, also made the second one without spot or sin. Another writes: Mary was not infected by the venomous breath of the serpent. And in a beautiful hymn by the deacon, St. Ephrem, the Harp of the Holy Ghost, it states: You alone O Jesus and Your Mother are more beautiful than any others — for there is no blemish in You, nor any stains upon Your mother. And the saints, too, would call her the highest honor of our race ... the lily among thorns ... an offshoot of grace not wrath ... fallen man's singular boast... a never fading wood that the worm of sin never corrupted.
iv. But perhaps the most powerful proofs of the Immaculate Conception of Mary are based upon common sense. Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed to the fact that if one could make his own mother, wouldn't he make her perfect, wouldn't he love her so much that he would protect her from any harm, from any fall, from any blemish? Well, the Son of God did create His own mother. And of course, the common sense argument used by Blessed John Duns Scotus — a son of St. Francis — a member of that Franciscan Family who are the greatest defenders of our Lady's singular privilege. Scotus stated —Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit...roughly translated — God could do it — He should do it — and by golly God did do it. Blessed John Duns Scotus, the Subtle Doctor, provided that key term to explain the teaching, namely PRESERVED. Our Lady was saved by God in an extraordinary way for she was preserved from any stain of sin. Whereas we are picked up after the fall and cleansed, Mary was prevented from falling and thus was stainless. Mary gives thanks all the more for she is more indebted to her Savior.
v. And all of this led to an event that occurred 150 years ago today. Blessed Pius IX, surrounded by the spiritual sons of St. Francis of Assisi, exercised the charism of infallibility in an extraordinary way, proclaiming as the successor of St. Peter the following: We define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved free from all stain of original sin. But while all the cardinals, prelates, and dignitaries were gathered in Rome, another event was happening in Paris, France. On December 8, 1854, Sister Marie of St. Clare, foundress of the P.C.P.A.s solemnly consecrated herself, together with her religious daughters, both present and future. And she decreed that all should bear the name of the Virgin.
vi. And what is the member of this congregation to do with her life? Mother Marie of St. Clare clearly states: We are victims of thanksgiving. At that kneeler in the cloister or in one of these pews, the Poor Clare Nun of Perpetual Adoration is entrusted with the great service of thanksgiving. As the foundress put it: His Eucharistic Love should be honored, praised, and thanked through perpetual thanksgiving. Jesus is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. But in His hiddenness, in His littleness, in His infinite condescension in the Sacred Host, He cannot express Himself. And so He whispers words of praise and thanksgiving into the hearts of these nuns and it rises to their lips and they continue to sing that song of thanksgiving begun by our Lady —My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.