The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a celebration of the mystery of divine election. From all eternity God has elected and selected certain souls on whom he has showered definite blessings and whom he has challenged with specific adversities.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, no matter how much their personal stories are lost to history, were unique, individual human beings. This man and this woman were distinctive personalities who God mysteriously chose to begin his outpouring of love on mankind. The Jewish nation, of course, is the classic example of divine election. Ignoring the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians and the Egyptians, God selected Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachael to initiate a chosen people that would be dear to him for all eternity.
Through Jesus Christ and through his church, God continues to select chosen souls who are invited to share more fully and more explicitly in the mystery of salvation. Even within this Christian community, God specifically designates certain chosen souls for individual ministries. The laity have their blessings and their challenges. The various priestly orders have their responsibilities. All throughout salvation history, from Adam to Pope Benedict XVI, God has entered into uniquely personal relationships with every man, woman and child on the face of this earth. Sometimes, by human standards, the relationship has been rather vague. To this day, most of humanity has not even heard the name of the living God. But, happily for Christians, their believing relationship with God is very explicit, very obvious, very clear. And certainly, never has a person’s select relationship with God been more evident than in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In God’s unique selection of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of his Son, to be sinless from conception, to bear Jesus virginally, and to be accepted body and soul into heaven, believers are given a graphic depiction of how God works in the soul of every human person. Mary’s gifts were indeed singular. Jesus will never be born again of a virginal and sinless mother. But although Mary’s gifts were particular to her, they nonetheless were true gifts, they were graces, they were favors. Mary had no right to her divinely bestowed privileges. God mysteriously and freely settled on her for all eternity. He showered her with lavish kindnesses and supported her cooperation with his divine plan. And it worked! Just as in Adam, all mankind is seen to fall, so in Mary, all mankind is given a vision of election, cooperation and success.
The news media report that there are now seven billion persons on the face of the earth. Not one of these persons is here by accident. There are no accidental human beings. God has selected every living soul to come into existence and, ultimately, to share eternal happiness with him in heaven. This mystery is indeed challenging when Christians consider the slow rate of evangelization. There are about a billion Christians; maybe about a billion Moslems; but the bulk of mankind has yet even to hear God’s name. Still, God has entered into a personal relationship with every man and every woman from the moment of his or her conception. Otherwise they would not exist. Just as surely as God chose Mary and offered her gifts, so God selects everyone and offers him or her gifts – vastly different gifts but nonetheless gifts, graces, blessings. This is precisely the good news of salvation, news that the church is challenged to make sacramentally explicit and pastorally effective in every age of history.
As the Hail, Holy Queen begins and as Bishop Keough’s motto – Maria, Spes Nostra – once announced, the Blessed Virgin Mary is mankind’s hope. Just as God chose Mary and overwhelmed her with grace, so too God chooses each human being and invites him or her into a personal relationship with him. Mary’s graces were certainly superlative; none of us will ever attain her excellence. Nonetheless, as the Catholic world rejoices today in Mary’s Immaculate Conception, the same Catholic world should rejoice in its own divine selection, discerning carefully and gratefully the nature of its own unique gifts. The Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived immaculate in the womb of St. Anne, is a vivid and graphic reminder that every man and every woman was conceived with a heavenly destiny – maybe not as exalted as Mary’s but nonetheless just as genuine.