Today’s feast is mysterious in many ways. The doctrine tells us that God’s power — unexpected and unprecedented — acted at the very moment of Mary’s conception. Born of the love of her parents Anne and Zechariah, Mary was conceived “full of grace,” a gift that only one other human would share: her own child, God’s beloved Son, Jesus.
The Scripture readings tell us that we too share in the abundance of this God who does “wondrous deeds” (Psalm), who chose us too, before time began, and destined us to be one with Christ (Ephesians). Not even the willful ways of our first parents (Genesis) – or our own – can thwart God’s loving purpose.
On this feast, special to Sisters of Charity, Associates and Companions as the day we renew our vows and commitments, I choose not to puzzle over its theological intricacies.* Rather, the bottom-line message of Mary’s feast for me is this:
Beyond everything that I as a human being can grasp, beyond all that seems to contradict it, God’s love rules my life. Love will prevail, in ways far beyond anything that I can ask or imagine.
I can’t imagine that Mary understood, or even knew, the meaning of the gift God had given her. I can’t imagine that it took away her moments of confusion, wonderment and fear about the happenings that her everyday life brought on. In today’s Gospel, Luke recounts one of those times when she was “greatly troubled” at the fateful visit of an angel who bore astounding news. Like us, it took Mary a lifetime to grow in understanding herself, her life, her reality, and the ever-present love of God that embraced it all.
Throughout her brief but eventful life, Elizabeth Seton grew into this same awareness of God’s all-surrounding love. As the first difficult weeks of caring for New York’s immigrant Catholic orphans stretched into months and years, our early Sisters grew into this same awareness. They, and those who followed them up to this very day, shared their sense of God’s abiding care with every man, woman and child on whom they lavished their own tough and tender love.
Mother Mary, pray for us, that we may become bearers of Christ to our world. May we believe in a Love that existed long before us and will endure long after us – a Love that rules our lives, a Love that will prevail, in ways far beyond anything that we can ask or imagine.
*(For more about the theological meaning of this feast, see the helpful explanation by Joseph Veneroso, MM, at https://maryknollmagazine.org/2017/11/misconceptions-immaculate-conception/ – used by permission)
–Sr. Regina Bechtle, SC
Sr. Regina, a retreat leader, speaker, writer and spiritual director, serves as Charism Resource Director for the Sisters of Charity of New York.