The Immaculate Conception – A Lily Among Thorns
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. (Sg:2:2:)
How mighty are God’s works! The word went forth that the human race should be redeemed by the Son of God made man. He was to come unto His own, and His own were to be made ready for His coming. And great was the preparation: the whole world was in peace; the whole Roman world was enrolled, Mary was conceived Immaculate. And this last was the greatest wonder of all!
Adam’s sin betrayed as it were the whole human race to Satan. It handed over to him the vast dominion of this world. Every child of Adam came under Satan’s ban. So much his was every soul, that to belong again to God it had to be repurchased at an infinite price.
Every child but one — Mary, daughter of Joachim and Anna: Mary who was to be Mother of God. She was, through the merits of her Son, without stain from the first moment of her existence. God by a meek maid conquered the rebellious spirit who thought to be as the Most High, and crushed with Mary’s heel the serpent’s head. She was the sole triumph of the four thousand years before her birth and of the two thousand years that followed. Never again shall we see an Immaculate One upon the earth.
If we could only understand what sin is, how we should rejoice in our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. Immaculate, without stain, or spot, or blemish. We are so dull and have grown so callous to sin and its horrors that we almost take it as a matter of course. But indeed sin is not a matter of course, even for the weakest of us. It is one of the devil’s lies to make men believe that sinning is necessary, unavoidable, a part of the present system. Sin is terrible, horrible; disfiguring the soul in this world and torturing it in the next. It is the whole evil of the world, the source of all suffering and misery. And it can be resisted, can be overcome. As a powerful engine makes its way over a rough sea and against a strong wind, so can our will, fortified with grace, overcome the world, the devil, and the flesh. That there are shipwrecks, partial or total, and millions of them, does not take away the possibility of a safe transit.
But why talk of sin today, of all days in the year, when we are celebrating Mary’s spotlessness? Let us rather turn our weary eyes away from that evil to which we are akin and lift them up to rest on Mary. And it is a rest. If there were a spot on earth where we could truly say, “Here no sorrow can come!” how would people flock to that spot.
But there is no such place. Still there is Mary! Hers is a soul where perfect peace and holy joy dwell undisturbed. She was foreshadowed in the Old Testament under the most beautiful types: the dove that could find no spot clean enough for a resting-place; the many-colored rainbow, reaching from heaven to earth and ratifying God’s promise to man; the fiery bush, burning but unconsumed; the majestic cloud of flame that led the Israelites into the Promised Land; Aaron’s rod with its pure white blossom; the Ark of the Covenant, God’s home on earth; Gideon’s fleece, exempt from the common lot; “the garden enclosed” of the Canticle — these and many more were faint symbols of Mary’s soul.
And this beautiful one, God’s Mother, is my Mother too, given to me to be my own. What shall I do to please her? How shall I make much of her? The sight of her radiant beauty turns my thoughts to my own soul, and a sense of shame comes over me. I see there blemishes, imperfections, evil tendencies. Well! let me take them to my Mother and say with the humble saints: “Behold the fruits of my garden.” And Mary will look down with love, and with the tender hand of a Mother will help me to uproot the evil, overcome the bad, and strengthen the good. But perhaps her awful purity keeps me back; I shudder to present before her sinless eyes the sight of my wounded soul. That must not be. Purity never makes the heart hard: the most innocent are the most compassionate. She has never repulsed a sinner because of his frailty.
“Coming to Mary” perhaps sounds vague. It means turning the eyes of one’s soul towards Mary, the Mother of God, and saying to her in the depth of one’s heart some vocal prayer, or, better still, some half-uttered, half-thought-out petition. It means babbling out to the vision in one’s mind one’s troubles, one’s cares, one’s sins, and asking with a firm, strong faith for relief and help. We shall see no beautiful face, no doubt, hear no sweet voice, nor feel a healing touch. But we shall rise from our prayer purified, strengthened, and consoled.
The Manual of the Holy Catholic Church
James J. McGovern
On the 8th of December, 1854, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, our own Pius IX., in the presence of the vast concourse of Catholic Bishops who thronged the Basilica of St. Peter, solemnly defined the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be an article of faith:
“In honor of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity, for the glory and ornament of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith and the spread of the Christian religion, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own, we pronounce and define, that the doctrine, which maintains that the most blessed Virgin Mary, in the first moment of her conception, was, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in regard of the merits of Christ Jesus, the Saviour of the human race, preserved free from the stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and is, therefore, to be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.”