Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Psalm 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Luke 1:26-38

The first reading from Genesis articulates the cunning of the devil that becomes the cunning of human beings brought about by the original sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Man and woman reject God in favor of a false sense of freedom. They become preoccupied with themselves. Man and woman, each of them, values the other only for uses like physical pleasure and emotional security at the expense of the other’s dignity.

This reading from Genesis concerns the aftermath of the man and the woman disobeying God and eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is the first case of arrogance, obfuscation, and “excuse-making.” Instead of the transparency of the intimacy of peace, which the creation story of the second chapter of Genesis emphasizes, the disobedience of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — brings with it duplicity, a defiant refusal to be honest and transparent, a fear of relationship and intimacy with God, a propensity for violence and rage, and, in a word, a disobedient refusal to love.

This is underscored in Adam’s response to the Lord God’s question. God asks Adam, “Where are you?” Adam responds, “I heard your sound in the garden and I was afraid, for I was naked, and I hid.” Instead of seeing God as the One from whom Adam’s life came, God is now seen by Adam as a threat and an adversary to him, the One who is to be feared and not trusted because Adam sees God as restricting human freedom. Human nature might outwardly appear to be the same as before the sin of Adam, but the human condition is in fact very different than before Adam’s sin. The human condition has become cowardly, selfish, ignorant, jealous, and marked by shame and death.

In addition, the second time in Genesis that Adam speaks regarding Eve involves Adam blaming her, with a denial to accept his own responsibility in their conspired act of disobedience. Adam speaks to God, “The woman whom You gave by me (by the way); she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Adam had previously spoken to God gratefully and intimately about Eve prior to his sin, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh — this one shall be called woman.” Adam’s second instance of speech regarding Eve is now marked by ingratitude and full of accusation directed at God for effectively having created Eve: “…whom you gave by me….,” instead of a response of reverence and intimate trust. Thus, rupture, enmity, division, and separation ensue on the man’s part between him and God, between him and the woman, between the woman and God, between humanity and the rest of creation.

Yet, there is the Good News of the Gospel! The Gospel reading for today is Luke’s account of the Annunciation of Mary, the first joyful mystery of the Rosary. Mary, the new Eve, stands completely vulnerable and trusting, unafraid, in loving relationship with God as she receives the awe-filled invitation to accept God’s will to be the Mother of His Son — the Mother of God, the Mother of our salvation. Unlike Adam and Eve who hide and separate themselves from the Lord God, the Blessed Virgin Mary gives herself honestly and transparently to complete love and full abandonment to God’s will — including an intimate share in her Son’s suffering — when she utters her fiat: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” She is the instrument that is connected to the restoration of all creation in her Son, Jesus. She is not preoccupied with herself, but she is completely aware and at peace with God and with humanity, redeemed eternally by Her Son. It is for this reason that she is described as the “human race’s solitary boast.”

She is not to be wounded by sin but is instead to be wounded by love when she sees us suffer because of our own sins or because of the sins of others. Through her “yes” to God, God becomes clothed in humanity — the full humanity of her Son, Jesus. We can say “yes” because of her “yes.” We become able not to hide in “shame” as Adam and Eve did because of Mary’s purity of heart in not being afraid and in “saying yes” to God’s invitation. The willingness to love can become stronger in us and our tendency towards such sins as lust, greed, gluttony, envy, anger, pride, and sloth, weakens and we become less fearful and preoccupied with self. We come to know God better and to know and to accept ourselves with confidence. The Blessed Virgin Mary is not only an example for us, but she also helps us as our mother who loves us because Her Son came to save us.

On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we must admit that Original Sin tempts us to be suspicious of God and to convince ourselves that anyone who does not sin must really be basically dull, and that meaningful drama is missing from that person’s life. We mistakenly think that the dimension of being free to say no to God, to descend into the shadiness of sin and to want to do things in one’s own way is truly part of being authentically human and interesting to others.

Yet, the unconditional love of God revealed in the “yes” of Mary offers us the enlightened grace to see that the opposite is the truth. It is honestly true that the person who turns to God in prayer and who trusts Him does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God a person becomes great. He or she becomes truly himself or herself. Persons who put themselves in God’s hands do not distance themselves from others or become boring, withdrawing into their own private and make-believe world. On the contrary, it is only when one trusts God that a person’s heart truly awakens and she becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person. The closer a person is to God, the closer he or she is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings. No one is closer to God. No one is closer to Jesus. No one is closer to us than Mary, immaculately conceived. May she help us to love Jesus and to love each other.

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