3 Birthdays, 2 Conceptions, 1 Divine Plan
This week we celebrate the solemn feast of the Immaculate Conception. While most saints are honored on the day of their death (we also honor Mary’s Assumption on August 15), only two saints are celebrated on their birthday: John the Baptist (June 24) and the Virgin Mary (September 8).
And only one is honored from the moment of conception itself. While the conception of every person is sacred, a unique expression of our capacity as man and woman to share God’s life giving power – the Immaculate Conception of Mary is also joined by a special grace from God. From the first moment of her existence in her mother’s womb, God preserved Mary from all stain of sin. The saving grace of Jesus that touched you and me at our Baptism surrounded Mary from the moment of her conception.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus himself on December 25, and we recall his conception by the power of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb on the feast of the Annunciation on March 25.
And so the annual celebration of these three births and two conceptions all point us to God’s one loving plan for our salvation.
The Immaculate Conception reminds us that God does not react to what happens. God knows beforehand what he will do, and even foreseeing the tragedy of human sin, God does not change his will for our salvation. In fact, it is precisely because God foresaw the outpouring of love that Jesus would offer once and for all on the Cross that he could apply that grace to Mary even before the Word became flesh. As a teacher of mine, Dr. Peter Kreeft, once said, “In God’s hands, time is like a pretzel.”
In a similar way, at every Mass, we are present at the Last Supper, at Calvary, and already in a way at the heavenly banquet, even as we gather at daily Mass on a time of our choosing here and now. The one saving sacrifice of Jesus is simultaneously present in all its aspects every time we receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. Whether we are thinking of it or not, that is what God is thinking and doing at every Mass.
Some friends of mine are eagerly awaiting to adopt a child. They don’t know who the child is, or if the child has even been conceived or born. But their love is already present, preparing their hearts and home and motivating them to undertake the long and difficult process of adoption. That is prevenient love.
The Immaculate Conception is a celebration of God’s prevenient love and grace. Out of love for you and me, God prepared Mary to give her free yes to his plan for our salvation. Her freedom was not restrained by fear or by sin and its wounds. She freely gave her yes with her whole being – out of love for God and for us.
Let us prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, announced by John the forerunner, born of the sinless Virgin Mary – the Immaculate Conception, by giving our yes to God’s plan to make us his adopted daughters and sons in Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son.