Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  Probably the first thing I need to say is that we are celebrating when Mary was conceived, not when Jesus was conceived.  It is pretty easy to see how we could be confused since today’s Gospel reading is not about Mary’s conception.  In fact that is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture.  No, today we celebrate the belief that Mary was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and that she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life.  Pope Pius IX declared this dogma in 1854.  The Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heaven follows naturally from the belief that she was free of both original sin and personal sin all her life.  She had no need for purification or purgatory after her death.  The fact that she was free from all sin is why the angel Gabriel greeted her with, “Hail, full of grace!”  Grace is a share in God’s own life, in His divinity and who would share more in that than Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In talking about Mary today I want to focus on one word that we see in both our first reading from Genesis and in the Gospel - afraid.  We all live with too much fear of God, sometimes warranted, sometimes not.  Look at the first reading.  When God asked Adam, “Where are you?” Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid.”  Afraid, why? Because although he heard the word of God - do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - in his freedom Adam decided he did not want to be the “created” but rather the “creator.”  He wanted to be like God.  When he realized what he had done, he was afraid; he tried to hide from God. 

Mary also heard the word of God when Gabriel greeted her with “Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you” and Mary was afraid.  But how does Mary handle her fear?  With great faith, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.” 

Fear is the exact opposite of faith and a sign that something is wrong in our love.  We aren’t afraid of what we love and of what truly loves us.  Like Mary, everything inside of our Christian faith invites us to move towards God in intimacy rather than in fear.  In fact, in almost every instance in scripture where God appears to someone, either through an angel or through an appearance of the resurrected Christ, the first words are invariably:  “Do not be afraid!”  So why was Adam so afraid and Mary not, after all, remember Adam actually walked with God in the Garden of Paradise.  What was Adam afraid of?  Several things.  Fear that God was not understanding and compassionate.  Fear that God does not read the heart and can not tell the difference between sin and simply immaturity.  Fear that God gives us only one chance and cannot bear any missteps and infidelities.

How does faith, faith like Mary’s, answer these fears?  Faith says that God’s compassion and forgiveness surpass our own.  Faith says that God reads our hearts and can tell the difference between sin and simply immaturity.  Faith says that God gives us more than one chance, opening another door every time we close one.  Faith says that God is real and God is Lord and, because of this there is ultimately nothing to fearFaith says to us “Do not be afraid!” because we are in safe hands, God’s hands. 

As we prepare during Advent for Christ how do we handle our fears, like Adam or like Mary?  John’s 1st letter tells us “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because He first loved us.”  And that, like Mary, is a reason for us to rejoice in the Lord!