What the Immaculate Conception Teaches Us
These holy days -- Dec. 8 and 12 -- possess critical moral content
As we mark the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I present two thoughts on why Our Lady under the title of the “Immaculate Conception” is the fitting patroness for the United States.
First, we Americans continue to fail to reckon with the reality of “conception.” Notwithstanding the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the opportunities to protect unborn human life, no small number of our fellow countrymen still want to continue the killing. The November 2023 Ohio referendum writing abortion-on-demand into the state constitution demonstrates this. After 63,000,000 “products of conception” killed, there are still those who deny scientific fact to pretend the unborn person is not human and not a person.
The very term “product of conception” is used by pro-abortionists to dehumanize the unborn. Yet, when she appeared at Lourdes in 1858, Our Lady identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception.” She did not say, “I’m Mary” or “I’m the Blessed Virgin,” or “I’m Jesus’s Mother.” She said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” She identified herself with the beginning of her life free from sin.
Consider Our Lady’s language. Her identification is total. It’s neither “I was immaculately conceived” nor even “I was the Immaculate Conception” but “I am the Immaculate Conception,” the continuous reality of her identity.
Second, remember that Mary’s freedom from sin is not her doing. It is God’s gift and a “prevenient” grace, i.e., Mary is already saved – even to the degree of freedom from all sin – through her Son, Jesus Christ. Remember, God is eternal, not bound by space or time: Mary already shared the graces her Son won. So, Mary’s grace (like ours, albeit qualitatively, not just “quantitatively’ different) is first and foremost God’s work.
So, Mary, who as “the Immaculate Conception” is clearly human and clearly graced from the first moment of her conception, is also all those things not by virtue of her own doing but of God’s gift. Later in her life Mary will proclaim that truth, singing not what she has achieved but that “the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name” (Lk 1:49). Those great things began all the way back at her conception.
This lesson is pertinent to us, too. Our lives are not something we have “earned”; our very existence is God’s gift. Life is not a doing as much as a receiving, something the Immaculate Conception teaches us and something exceedingly relevant to how we approach the gift of human life.
Obviously, because life is God’s gift, it becomes its recipient’s right—what Jefferson called in our founding document “certain inalienable rights” deriving from “the Creator” and which include “life” – whose deprivation is a fundamental injustice.
And if Mary is graced and loved by God not because of what she does but of whom she is, doesn’t that demolish the abortionist’s argument that the ability to “do” something or to “act autonomously” is prerequisite to being truly human? If that were true, the “Immaculate Conception” would not be human.
Remember, we as a nation celebrate December 8 – the Solemnity of Mary’s Conception – not September 8, the Nativity of Mary, as our patronal feast.
Note also that, in saying “I am the Immaculate Conception” – a title and identity not of her derivation but purely God’s Gift – Mary also teaches us that identity is not something self-conferred but something received and acknowledged. Yes, she makes it her own by using the title, but in accepting who she is, Mary is not inventing as much as acknowledging an identity that is God’s gift, not her making. That, too, is a perspective relevant to our day and age.
I also observe that while Catholics in America celebrate Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, many Catholics in the Americas honor her as Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. The cult of Our Lady displaced the cult of human sacrifice that was part of Aztec “culture.” Is it not telling that Our Lady is a sign of the victory of life over death? Is it not then surprising that, on the Miraculous Medal (whose design Our Lady dictated) she is honored with the words “O Mary, conceived without sin…” and depicted crushing the snake that brought humanity death? There can be nothing else but enmity between the serpent and the Woman (Gen 3:15), between the Immaculate Conception and all Baals, Ashtaroths, and Liliths who would deify sex while demonizing life.
These four days — Dec. 8 through 12 — are not just “holydays of obligation” or ethnically traditional feasts. They possess a critical moral content, especially for our peoples and our times. Let us honor she whom “all ages will call blessed” (Lk 1:48). Let us honor the “woman” who even today — like her Son — “fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (see Redemptor hominis, no. 8 and Gaudium et spes, no. 22).
[With grateful acknowledgement to Fr. John Paul Heisler for certain ideas in this essay, the interpretations being my own.]
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