Bishop's Column

Our Lady of Advent

By Bishop James Conley  

Since the time of the early Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary was revered as “the New Eve.” Mary’s fiat—or obedient “yes” to the will the God—contrasts with Eve’s “no” to the Lord through her disobedience.

With the complicity of Adam, Eve’s disobedience produced bad fruit, namely the state of Original Sin, whereas Mary’s obedience produced good fruit, allowing God to enter the world and save us. As St. Jerome described it, “Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary.”

Soon-to-be-canonized Blessed John Henry Newman put it like this: “Just as Jesus Christ’s obedience to the Father’s will undoes the first Adam’s disobedience, so too Mary’s ‘yes’ to God’s invitation to be the Lord’s mother, nullifies Eve’s disregard for God’s command to avoid the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.”

Mary is also described as the chosen daughter of Israel, and in Christian terms, the perfect and first disciple of Jesus, which is something to reflect upon as we begin this blessed season of Advent. In Advent, we, in a sense, place ourselves in the shoes of the ancient Israelites, our ancestors in the faith.

God’s plan of salvation was inaugurated through the Hebrew people. God entered into a covenant with them; he would be their God and they would be his people. In this covenant, the Lord promised the patriarch Abraham that he would be the “father of many nations” (Gen 17:4).

The sons of Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel, made up the 12 tribes of Israel. Within these tribes, God calls prophets to speak his word, priests to offer sacrifices, and later kings to lead his people.

God gradually revealed more and more of himself through the Hebrew people, beginning his work of salvation. God did many good things in and through these people, but sometimes they were unfaithful. For instance, King David, who for the most part loved the Lord with all of his heart, sinned grievously against the Lord.

But in the Blessed Virgin Mary, Israel reaches its perfection. She perfectly responded to the will of God.

This Saturday, Dec. 8, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of Obligation. The Immaculate Conception is the dogma that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from Original Sin from the moment of her conception and retained a right relationship with God from that moment forward, meaning that she committed no personal sin.

In 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

Mary’s “yes” to the will of God is manifested in her trust in the Lord throughout her life. She trusted in the Lord when the angel Gabriel told her that she would bear in her womb the Son of God, even though she couldn’t understand how this could be, since she had no relations with a man. She trusted in the Lord when, after the birth of Jesus, she and Joseph had to travel to Egypt to escape the bloodlust and envy of King Herod, who was murdering thousands of infant boys upon hearing of the birth of a newborn king.

And she trusted in the Lord, even as she saw her Son, the King of the Universe, wearing a crown of thorns and dying on a cross.

In the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel tells Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:36) These words necessarily turn our attention to the mystery of the Virgin Birth. Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus in her womb, and this was fitting for her because the Lord had already overshadowed her entire life.

There was not a place in Mary’s heart, that is, in her will, where she did not allow the Lord to enter. That is why we honor the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her heart burns with the fire of God’s love in the most perfect way. She is truly “full of grace.”

Through the angel Gabriel, our Heavenly Father turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary with a request—that she would give the Eternal Word a human nature in order to bring Christ’s saving work into this world.

If the Lord turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we also should turn to her. Our current crisis in the Church—both nationally and locally—is a time of purification. It’s a time to examine our consciences, asking ourselves if we are doing all that we can to be faithful disciples.

As I mentioned in my column last week, there are many reforms that must take place to ensure the safety and effectiveness of our institutions. But, real reform only happens through conversion of heart—and Mary helps us in our daily conversion.

Closeness to Mary’s Immaculate Heart purifies our hearts, leading us closer to Jesus. She is our spiritual mother. Our hearts, at times, may be filled with restlessness, anxiety, and confusion, but we know that under her mantle we possess serenity, comfort and peace. 

The Immaculate Conception is the patroness of our diocese and of our nation. At this time, many Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln and throughout the world are preparing to make a “total consecration” to Mary. A total consecration is a giving of oneself to Jesus Christ through the hands of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who always leads people closer to her Son. This devotion comes from St. Louis de Montfort, a French priest who died in 1716. He encouraged growing a relationship with Jesus through love of his mother.

On Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, many will conclude their consecration. At that time, I will also consecrate our entire diocese to Mary with the following prayer of consecration:
O Blessed Virgin Mary, I solemnly bind and consecrate all the faithful of the Diocese of Lincoln to your Immaculate Heart.
Ever Virgin, Immaculate Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Mother of Divine Grace and Mother of the Church, we ask you to cover us with the Infinite Merits of your Divine Son in order to safely arrive to the Eternal Day and see God face to face.
We ask this + in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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