immaculate conception

immaculate conception

December 8th is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is also the one year anniversary of this blog.

I didn`t devote that first post to this major feast in the Church calendar. This surprises me, now. Perhaps my mind was too wrapped around the idea of beginning a blog. I was worried about taking those first, tentative steps into the writing world. I wanted to share my own thoughts and experiences within the Catholic Church; a faith tradition and community that will always be part of my being. I wanted to ponder our blessings and our challenges. I wanted to nudge a dialogue in a time of ever-increasing debate.  And, I wanted the dialogue to be catholic, with a small c, welcoming all into the conversation.

The Immaculate Conception can be a dense, difficult concept to understand. It is often mistaken as the immaculate conception of Jesus. But, it refers to the belief that Mary, herself, was conceived without the stain of original sin. The Mary Page at the University of Dayton is a rich resource on this and other aspects of Mariology.

The beauty of Mary in our Catholic tradition is that she is multi-faceted and multi-faced. Her purity is but one aspect. And, it is not an aspect that speaks to many women of today. Perhaps it is because Mary was held up as an impossible model of womanhood. Perhaps it is because of the misogynistic view held by the church and society for so many centuries; a view that saw all women as daughters of Eve – the sinner and temptress. Perhaps it is because virginity was idealized and spiritualized while sexual love and union was relegated to the sinful physicality of the world.

Today, many look to the Mary of scriptures for their model and guide. Here they will find…

  • A pondering and praying woman.
  • A woman so grounded in her faith that she was able to give her whole-hearted YES to the seemingly impossible.
  • A woman who knew the importance of visitations.
  • A woman who railed against injustice in her powerful Magnificat.
  • A woman who knew the reality of homelessness and the uncertainty of being a refugee on the run.
  • A woman who knew the love of a good man.
  • A woman who knew the stresses of motherhood, not always understanding or knowing God’s specific plan for her child.
  • A woman who knew that wine was needed not only for a celebration, but to prevent the humiliation of a newly married couple.
  • A woman who stood by her son through his brutal execution.
  • A woman who prayed and remained present in that upper room in those dark hours before the coming of the Spirit.

The childhood image of Mary, meek and mild, no longer speaks to me. But this strong woman of Scripture does. She is a model and guide, a promise and a hope.

5 thoughts on “immaculate conception

  1. As Isabella mentions, some people have trouble with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception I am one of them. I accept this dogma not so much on the theology it implies but based on my spiritual relationship to William Joseph Chaminade, the founder of the Marianists. If he believed this then there is something in it for me. Also, the heavy handed, or should I say underhanded, way Pious IX declared this dogma detracts from the honor that is rightly Mary’s.

    First I believe the teachings on “Original Sin” need to be reexamined.
    Jacob Needleman, who is an expert on religion, wrote a book recently called “Why Can’t We be Good?” He says something very important in the Judeo- Christian tradition around the enormous substructures of guilt which for him is centered around the way we have interpreted the Doctrine of Original Sin.

    He believes that the way the Doctrine of Original Sin has been interpreted weakens our positions to face the authentic evil both without and within. To Needleman our interpretation of Original Sin binds us into a neurotic guilt, not a healthy guilt. Healthy guilt helps me re-align our choices, when we have done something wrong and we actually have the experience of remorse and we make amends and go into a process of forgiveness. He finds that in the sub-structures Judeo-Christian tradition is this neurotic guilt. It is a guilt founded on the premise that we should have, and could have acted differently in this or that situation in the light of some kind of ideal. It goes back to “we messed up” and I continually mess up from the ideal. “I could have done it differently” and that is a half truth. For most of us we enter into the world, and like Mary, we do the best we can, and sometimes the biggest lessons that we learn are the times when we have not done it correctly. Needleman says this kind of unhealthy guilt of the Original Sin does not allow us to know ourselves, or to experience God’s mercy. Because we are to busy beating ourselves up for doing it wrong, for being wrong, and we do not allow ourselves to experience the forgiveness and mercy of God for being simply who we are. The reason there is sin and suffering in the world is not because we are weak, but because we are human. “Wound” may be a better word.
    The words “original sin” implies culpability, but often we have failed to notice the original blessing. Our ancestors in the faith were trying to make people realistic about their tragic flaw so that they would not be too surprised and shocked when it showed itself.

    Was Mary born without this original wounded? Perhaps, or is it just another attempt to make her other than her own person, a first century Jewish women, who lived in an occupied territory; and like us had to deal with tremendous ambiguity throughout her life. Does Jesus ask us to worship her (as sinless) or to imitate this remarkable woman of faith?

    For that matter did Jesus say to us “follow me”, or “worship me”?

    • Lots to think about, Ray. Many of us raised in an earlier time remember too well the effects of a neurotic guilt. It’s sad to see some of these memories returning in the revised prayers. It’s a challenge to find a healthy bablance between awareness of our sinfulness and thinking we can do no wrong.

  2. Thank you Isabella for the beautiful and gentle writing about our Mother Mary. You have painted an authentic picture of her…imaging it, I can see her sitting around the Table with us…being interested in our motherhood with its joys, emotional pain, an urgency to BE, aong with a heart for justice and a relational soul.

    Did you ever think what her voice would sound like?

    Peace be with you…Chris

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