Reflections on the Immaculate Conception

This week we will be celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

We Catholics believe in the Dogma that the Virgin Mary was conceived without Original Sin. Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters sometimes misunderstand this dogma. They infer from the fact that the Immaculate Conception occurs before the saving work of the Cross that Catholics believe Mary doesn’t need Jesus to be saved.

This misunderstanding comes partially from the fact that we look at time from the human perspective, not the Divine perspective.

Human beings go through time from moment to moment. We travel from past to present to future. To explain this in class, I draw a line on the chalkboard. I then take the piece of chalk and begin going over the line again. I say to my students that the piece of chalk only experiences the line at the point where it is touching. This is the present. The place where the chalk just touched is the past. The part of the line the piece of chalk has yet to touch is the future. In the same way, human beings experience only the present moment of time, with memories of the past and anticipation of the future.

I then ask “What about the chalkboard itself?”

The chalkboard does not experience a part of the line at a time. The chalkboard experiences the entire line at the same time. It is the same with God.

God is not inside of space/time the way we human beings are. In Him we live and move and have our being. In other words, God is not inside of time, but rather time is inside of God. God is bigger than our timeline. Like the chalkboard experiencing every part of the chalk line at the same time, God is experiencing every part of the timeline at the same time. For God, what we call the past, present, and future are all happening at the same time. He is there at the first moment of creation, the final moment of creation, and everything in between.

Because God is outside of time and space, the same rules do not apply to His graces.

All are saved because of Christ’s saving work on the Cross. This includes the Virgin Mary. But since God is outside of time, He applied that saving power to Our Blessed Mother in advance of the event in our time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing Vatican II states “The ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first instant of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ: she is ‘redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son’”. (CCC 492).

This is why we say that Mary is “full of grace.” In fact, if you go the literal translation of the words from Luke’s Gospel, the Angel Gabriel greets her not as “Hail Mary, Full of Grace,” but simply as “Hail Full of Grace” as if “Full of Grace” is her title.

What does it mean to be “full of grace?” In class, I use an analogy I got from Dr. Scott Hahn.

I take a cup and I fill it to the brim with water. I think hold it directly over a student’s head. I then ask them to hand me their pen or pencil so that I can put it in the cup. The will always refuse. When I ask why, they tell me that if I put the pen or pencil in the cup, they will get wet. When I press them further as to why, they explain that the cup is full and there is no more room for anything else.

And so I tell them the same is true of Mary. Her soul is so filled with the grace of God that there no room for anything else. There is no room for sin.

This is an important lesson for us. Mary may have had the unique privilege of being the only human creature since the Fall not have Original Sin, but she was also sinless her entire life. Adam and Eve were without sin, but they gave in to temptation. So why not Mary?

Because she is “full of grace.” She is so filled with God’s love that to turn away from it is unthinkable.

In this, we find the reason why so many of us still struggle with our sins. We simply try to say “no” to vice. But we do not fill our lives with virtue. I watched a documentary about a Catholic preacher who had a disciplined exercise regimen. He said it was recommended by his spiritual director to keep him from slipping into pornography. He would constantly fail in his struggles there, because he would try to stop his sin. But the gaping hole of time and energy that he had because of this simply lingered. Nature abhors a vacuum, so he would fill that time and use that energy for sin. There is great truth to the old saying, “the devil finds work for idle hands.”

To replace an external vice with “busy-work” is fine, but it is not the ideal. In the same way, a married man who constantly fights his desire to cheat on his wife by working longer hours at his job instead of visiting a prostitute would be fine, but not ideal. Ideally, he would be so filled with love for his wife that the idea of visiting the prostitute would not even occur to him.

In this way, we should be imitators of Mary. If we are so filled with God’s love, like she is, then we can resist sin. God’s love will satisfy our deepest longings and so those things that draw us away from that will seem bitter and unsatisfying.

I pray that we can all conceive the Immaculate Heart of Mary in our own hearts this day.

Copyright 2021, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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