Feast of the Immaculate Conception – 8 December 2015
At a time of water shortage in her village, a woman went looking for a vessel with which to draw water from a distant well. But the first vessel she found was full of milk. The next was full of oil. The third was filled with grain. And so it went. However, she eventually found an empty one. She cleaned it out, took it to the well, and returned with a bucket of clear, cool water that she willingly shared with all her neighbours.
In effect, the only vessel that was available to that woman was the empty one. The usefulness of a vessel lies in its hollowness and emptiness, in its capacity to receive, to hold and to carry.
Mary’s greatness consisted in her availability to God. Many are not available to God; they are too full of their own plans. No doubt, Mary too had her own plans for her life. Hence, she might have said to the angel: ‘Sorry I have my own plans’. But what she said was, ‘it’s not what I want but what God wants matters. Let what God wants be done to me.’
Mary made a complete gift of herself to God and accepted the task he gave her. Even though she didn’t understand all the implications of it, she trusted that God would give her all the help she needed.
She knew what oppression was when she couldn’t find a place in an inn to give birth to Jesus. She lived as a refugee in a foreign land, Egypt. She knew the pain of having a child who does not follow the accepted path. She knew the loneliness of a widow, and the agony of seeing her only son executed as a criminal. So Mary was not some far off saint who was too perfect for us to approach or feel close to. She is truly a woman of our time. Woman everywhere will find plenty that they can identify with her life. She is a friend of all the poor and oppressed woman of our times. She challenges us all to live a simpler life, a life of unconditional trust in God.
Today’s feast celebrates the teaching that ‘from the first moment of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, by a singular grace and privilege of our Almighty, loving God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of all humankind, was kept free from all sin’.
Mary is, above all a woman of great faith. She is blessed not simply because she was the mother of Jesus, but because she heard the word of God and kept it. Mary’s faith never wavered. Yet she wasn’t afraid to ask questions. Faith is not blind. It is beyond reason but not against it. When she didn’t understand something she questioned the angel and later she pondered in her heart until it made more sense or she just had to live with her questions, like we are called to. Elizabeth declared her ‘blessed’ and the cause of her blessedness was her faith: “blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Faith fills our lives to the brim without which our lives wouldn’t have meaning. Still, to have faith is not to have all the answers. Faith commits us to a life of searching. But at the end of the day we have to bow to the mystery. We have to allow God to be God.
And faith doesn’t necessarily make life easy. It is not a magic wand. It is because we have faith that we refuse to give up. Faith impels us to struggle on, to persevere.
However, biblical faith is not simply a matter of believing, but of believing and acting on that belief. It is a question of hearing the word and doing it, taking risks on it and making sacrifices because of it. Here, Mary sets us a great example. She is blessed because she not only believed but also acted on that belief. ‘Let it be done unto me according to your word’. She was the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus. So today we are celebrating the radical holiness of Mary. For her holiness consisted in hearing the word of God and doing it. We too will become holy if, like Mary, we hear the word of God and act on it.
“Lord, we thank you for the greatness of your gift in giving us Mary to be our Mother. May we be true children of hers by always cooperating with you in carrying out the will of our Father. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA