Balancing Devotion with Imitation
(Gen 3:9-20; Ps 98; Eph 1:3-12; Lk 1:26-38)
In November – December of 2016 and again in 2918, I was chaplain for a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land, and was privileged to preside at the Eucharist commemorating this feast of the Immaculate Conception. The celebrations took place in the cave/grotto where St. Jerome spent 35 years translating the Hebrew and Aramaic texts into the Latin Vulgate.
The Word of God he translated invites us to balance devotion to Mary with imitation of her, especially in doing the will of God.
Fr. Cantalamessa, the papal preacher, went so far as to say that imitation of Mary is just as important as devotion to her. I would suggest that we balance both devotion to, and imitation of, Mary in our lives, especially by imitating her fiat and doing the will of God.
The first reading of the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve reminds us of the reality of temptation to put our faith in the false gods of possessions and pleasure, prestige and fame, power and control. Their failure to obey the will of God led to what we call original sin, manifested in the reading by fear, shame, blame, denial, and projection, a woundedness that affects our world to this day.
Some would say we all have an original wound, or core grief, that underlies our addictions and our wrongdoing – our own original sinfulness.
The psalm is prophetic in reassuring us there is one who is victorious, who has done marvelous things, and so we should sing to the Lord a new song to celebrate this reality, this victory.
St. Paul, in his words to the Ephesians in the second reading, identifies this victor as Jesus Christ, who is holy and blameless in love, and who has adopted us into his own divine life as sons and daughters so we could live to the praise of his glory.
The familiar story of the annunciation in the Gospel reminds us that Mary shares in the victory of Jesus, her son, over sin and death. As such, she was sinless from the moment of her conception, holy and immaculate, filled with grace, with no original sin or wound, for nothing is impossible with God. We are invited to venerate her, and above all, to imitate her qualities of faith, compassion, justice and genuine caring.
The Old Testament intuits this holiness of Mary, especially in the Song of Songs: “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you” (4:7). “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the darling of her mother, flawless to her that bore her. The maidens saw her and called her happy” (6:9). To whom else would these verses be referring to?
Richard and Danelle Borgman, in their Searching for the Beautiful Garden, point out Mary did not receive the grace when the angel greeted her. She is “Full of Grace” and has been from the moment of her conception. The Greek word for “Full of Grace” is kécharitôménê which is the perfect participle of the verb, meaning the act of becoming “Full of Grace had been completed in the past before the angel spoke. Every grace that we need is already in abundance in the heart of our mother, Mary. (199)
The late Gerald May, a Catholic psychologist and good friend of Richard Rohr’s, would have come to the Queen’s House of Retreats in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan years ago at the invitation of then program coordinator Lucie Leduc, but had to decline because of illness. In his book entitled Will and Grace, he points out the choice we have: we can be stubborn and willful, resisting God’s grace and landing ourselves into all kinds of trouble, or we can be willing and open to God’s will, becoming like Mary, full of grace and obedient to how God wants to use us to build up the reign of God here on earth.
Step 11 of the 12 Step program invites us through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, seeking only the knowledge of God’s will for us, and the power to carry it out. That Step fits the feast of the Immaculate Conception like a glove.
The Eucharist is a celebration of how Jesus, like Mary, did the will of the Father, at the cost of his life. May our celebration deepen our faith in Jesus, Son of Mary, and empower us to balance devotion to Mary with imitation of Mary in our lives.