SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE B.V. MARY
Marking the closure of the “Year of the Youth” and
Launch of the “Year of the Mission”
8th December 2018
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today’s solemn Eucharistic Celebration has a Four-fold significance to us as a Diocese:
- Firstly, in communion with the universal Church, we are celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blesses Virgin Mary, commemorating how God preserved Mary from every stain of sin, right from the moment of her conception, preparing her in this way to become the Mother of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
- Secondly, on this solemn day, we are also celebrating our Diocesan Feast Day; our Diocese being under the Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “Immaculate Conception”.
- Thirdly, this day marks the end of the Year dedicated to the young people, which we have been celebrating since December 8, 2017.
- Fourthly, as a Diocese, today we are launching yet another important year, which we are going to celebrate until December 8, 2019; that is, the Year of the Mission.
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Through the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we honor Our Lady because she was conceived free from original sin. From the first moment of her existence, Our Lady was not contaminated by original sin.
Although it was only on December 8, 1854 that Pope Pius IX solemnly declared that Our Lady was conceived free from original sin (and that this was then a dogma of faith to be believed by all the faithful), it had been the belief of the faithful for centuries before that. When Our Lady appeared in Lourdes four years later in 1858 she said to St. Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception” confirming the Pope’s decision to declare the dogma of the Immaculate Conception four years earlier.
Today we are, above all, honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary who listened and lived the Word of God, who cherished in her heart the words that God addressed to her and, piecing them together like a mosaic, learned to understand them (cf. Lk 2,19. 51). We are also honoring the Believer who, full of faith, put herself in God’s hands, abandoning herself to his will; the humble Mother who, when the Son’s mission so required, became part of it and at the same time the courageous woman who stood beneath the Cross while the disciples fled.
The readings of today abound with contrasting images: images of self giving and images of self absorption; images of grace and images of sin. The contrast between Eve, the “Mother of All the Living” and Mary of Nazareth, the “Mother of the Church” is very striking. Both women, created without sin and given the freedom to fully flourish and prosper, came to a point of a most critical choice – critical for themselves and critical for all of humanity.
Choices are given to all of us to become all that God created each of us to be. What we choose, using our free will, will always have an impact upon us and those around us, personally and communally. In these particular events of human history, where Eve fails, Mary bears fruit. Because of Eve’s selfishness, we all are now impacted by original sin and tendencies toward disbelief, self-centeredness, cynicism, pride, fear, false humility, etc. – all of which can cloud our reasoning and make it hard for us to surrender to the Lord and His plan for our lives. As a consequence of Mary’s grace and surrender, all of us have been chosen by God: “…before the foundation of the world, we have been blessed in Christ, receiving every spiritual blessing in the heavens……to be holy and without blemish before him” (Ephesians 1,3-4).
Adam and Eve, when confronted by God, said, “I heard you in the garden, but I was afraid… so I hid myself” (Genesis 3,10). God gave everything possible to Adam and Eve. But what went wrong? Temptation became stronger than trust. Self-interest became stronger than surrender. Sin destroyed Adam and Eve’s complete faith, trust and confidence in God. It brought fear and shame into the world, and has destroyed our ability to be the best version of ourselves. Sin teaches us to fear our true and beautiful selves, created in God’s image and likeness.
Mary, on the other hand, is the perfect expression of both the simplicity and complexity of our human response. Unlike Eve, she chose to cooperate with God’s plan but not without question. “How can this be?” she said (Luke 1:34). Mary’s choice was one of trust in the Lord of her faith tradition. It was not in any way a “blind” trust. Rather her question demonstrated that Mary clearly used her human reason as well as her faith to know and follow what God was asking of her, her vocation. Mary was free from the impediments and hindrances that sometimes restrain us from saying “yes” to the Lord because her life’s focus was doing the will of God and responding to God’s grace.
Example: One day I was preaching to a group of youths about the “Sermon on the mountain” (Mt 5-7). As I was talking about love for enemies, one young man raised his hand and said: “Father, do you think that is possible? I can’t do that !”
The answer of that young man implied that his achievements in life were dependent upon himself and not upon God. In a sense, it was the same response as Adam and Eve. They couldn’t have what they wanted, so they took it. They were tempted to find their fulfillment in themselves, in their own wants and needs, and not in what God wanted to provide for them.
But we all do it. We approach life so often as if our happiness depended upon us. Instead of taking the posture of Mary, we often take the posture of Eve. Yes, Mary was conceived without sin and from the very moment of her birth her heart’s desire was for God. But even on a human level, a heart that is focused on God will remain free from sin. We should never be afraid of what God might have in store for us or ask of us. Never!
Like Mary, you and I have been chosen in a special way to bring forth Christ into the world in our own way. God’s plan for us is just as fantastic as His plan was for Mary. This will be the meaning of the Year of the Mission we are launching today.
All God has ever wanted for each of us is that we would be His children, desiring everything He wants to give us. Our willingness to cooperate should express our faith and trust even when we do not comprehend God’s plans. Our quiet reflection during this Advent Season will lead us to a better understanding as we welcome Jesus more deeply into our hearts. When we truly believe like Mary, that “nothing is impossible with God,” then we, too, will always say with Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1,38).
On this Feast Day, let us thank the Lord for the great sign of his goodness which he has given us in Mary, his Mother and the Mother of the Church.
Let us pray to him to put Mary on our path like a light that also helps us to become a light and to carry this light into the nights of our brothers and sisters, as we begin today the Diocesan Year of the Mission.
Rev. Fr. Francis Mukosa
Catholic Diocese of Ndola