Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This feast recalls Mary’s conception in St. Anne’s womb without sin.
The belief is that for Mary to be the God-bearer, she had to be perfect, thus born without original sin. At the same time, scripture reminds us that she was very much human.
We see a glimpse of this as the Angel Gabriel tells her to not be afraid (Lk 1:30).
Of course Mary was afraid. She was likely 13-years old, pregnant while not having intercourse, engaged, and very aware of the death that awaited her when the community discovered the pregnancy.
She also experienced the understandable fear as an angel approached her in the night, sharing the unbelievable news that she would bring God into the world. Just imagine what and how you would feel.
It is critical that we recall her humanity, especially on a day when we reflect on her conception and perfection. It is her humanity that helps us in our own earthly journey, relating to her as best we can- often in the fear we experience in our lives.
When my daughter was born, it was a very difficult delivery. After four days of labor, and several hours of my wife pushing, the doctor recommended a c-section. (It turned out the umbilical cord was twice wrapped around my daughter’s neck)
As they prepped my wife for surgery, I sat outside the operation room’s door now wearing green scrubs, waiting for permission to enter.
Like a cartoon, my knees were shaking up and down. I couldn’t calm them as the culmination of 9-months, and years of love, led us to this moment.
The nerves were justified as the c-section did not go smoothly. While the end of the story is one of joy, the experience was terrifying. As the doctor said afterwards, “if it wasn’t for this team of doctors and nurses, this could have been a very different situation.”
Throughout all of this, I held on to rosary beads that a student gave to me that she purchased during a recent service pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. Those beads clenched between my fingers for hours, providing peace within a storm.
My wife, like all mothers, are heroic figures. The miracle that they are, in addition to the miracle forming within them, deserves our collective admiration and praise. This appreciation must also include those countless motherly figures (many without biological children) who sacrifice, love, and give all of themselves to those most in need- bringing life to where it was once absent or limited.
Marian devotion has existed in my heart since a child. Inspired by my mother’s own devotion and attending a parish dedicated to the birth of Mary (Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary), so much of who I am is inspired and formed by Mary’s courage and strength.
While I will never fully appreciate her “yes,” and the physical, emotional, and psychological challenges that accompanied her during her pregnancy, her motherhood, at the foot of the cross, in the upper room, and in all the days in between, I am challenged, and at the same time, inspired by her strength.
I called upon her intercession that Tuesday morning when my daughter was born, and in many days before and since. I felt her presence on countless occasions, strengthening my soul on this earthly pilgrimage.
On this day, in the midst of Advent’s preparation, we reflect on who Mary was- in her immaculate conception and in her courageous journey, and who she is now to us as a spiritual mother.
May we have the same courage to bring Christ into the world by our faith, our actions, and our love.
May we inspire others by our courageous “yes” to living a radical life of love, and may we continue to turn to Mary for her inspiration and intercession to model all who she was and is as our heavenly mother and friend.