God chose Mary at the moment of her conception for a life and a mission that was abundant beyond what anyone had previously thought possible or even imagined.
Today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is the celebration of this beginning of the life of Mary. However it’s appropriate that the gospel reading for the feast focusses on her role at the beginning of the earthly life of Jesus who is God-with-us.
The scene is well represented in art and literature: a young Jewish woman, perhaps busy with morning routines, unexpectedly confronted with a messenger from God informing her that she was to become the mother of the “Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.”
I like the image above, American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), Mary, sensing God, flooded with light and awe, all ears.
Mary was puzzled, not resistant or dismissive, but curious: “But how can this be” she asked. The answer was clear: “nothing is impossible for God.”
Mary’s childhood (like ours) was spent within an environment formed by strong presumptions, expectations and limitations. Such cultural programmings are often formed by fear. Mary understood that God was calling her to greater love and she realised that this would involve letting go of the fears that provided an albeit superficial and fickle bond with her family, friends and the wider community.
The direct action of the Holy Spirit with Mary at the moment of her conception saved her from inherited (Original) sin, and enabled her to live (before Christian Baptism was instituted) the harmony and intimacy with God that we receive in the Sacrament of Baptism.
It is easy for us to ignore the opportunity that the grace of baptism offers us to live in relationship with God, each of us showing a unique and original dimension of the image of God.
But we don’t like to put our heads above the secular mentality.
Instead of becoming saints (which is our baptismal calling) we settle for an existence as photocopies, fitting the moulds, obeying the stereotypes, seeking tangible measures of success. When we do this our goals are uncreative.
Yet we laugh at the teenagers who plead for a mufti day at school so that they can have the freedom to dress however they choose, yet on the appointed day when they arrive at school they look remarkably uniform.
Perhaps we have never really understood that the stressed existence that most of us think is a normal part of life on earth is not the way things have to be. There is a way out, and it’s not about holding on until the weekend or hanging out for a pay increase or a change of boss.
And the great news is that this change is not only possible, it is available. Adam & Eve lost sight of the fact that they were dependant on God for their happiness and instead grasped at satisfaction that seemed promising but immediately disappointed.
It’s the story of our lives, isn’t it? Yet our experience tells us that this way of living is not really a life at all. It’s more of an existence never delivering what the depth of joy and peace the advertising and popular opinion promises.
We ignore the glimpses of hope-filled originality that are ours when we are free to step aside from the crowds.
And for us it can seem impossible to make any change. We’ve tried before and failed slipping back into the common mentality,