The readings from the Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception are replete with images of grace. Choices are given to human persons to become all that God created us to be. The contrast between Eve, the “Mother of the race” and Mary of Nazareth, the “Mother of the Church” is striking. Both women created without sin, and given the freedom to fully flourish, come to a point of most critical choice – critical for themselves and critical for all the rest of human history. Where Eve fails Mary succeeds. As a consequence, the rest of us have been chosen by God “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.”(Ephesians 1. 4 and 6-7).
In a recent gathering a fellow theologian pointed out that Justin Martyr, one of the earliest theologians, describes Jesus, both human and divine, in the Greek philosophical term of the “Logos.” This is particularly striking because Justin did not seem to have had access to John’s Gospel, so his use of this term is based on his pagan background and scholarship (as John’s might also have been). The term is loaded with several meanings that helped Christians of that Greco/Roman cultural milieu begin to understand the enormity of who Jesus is – at one and the same time the architect and the very architecture of creation. For the Father to “adopt” us into Jesus’ Divine Personhood is the plan “hidden for generations past, but now revealed in the Christ in you, your hope of Glory” as Paul tells the Christian community of Colossae. It is an invitation to be intimately joined to all the Creation as God is, bringing forth its salvation into the New Creation.
Centuries later, St. Ignatius Loyola is going to assert that the first principle and the very foundation of Christian faith is a “felt knowledge” – not just an intellectual idea, but a deep affective, experiential knowing – that each one of us has been created for the glory of God. In fact, all of the cosmic order has been created through the agency of Christ as the architect and as the very order or principle of the Universe. All of Christ’s being glorifies and loves the Father – so all creation is likewise “ordered” to that glorifying love. But because God has created us for freedom, capable of reason, of possessing our own will and of the capacity to love (or not), glorification of God by us is based on right choices made knowingly and lovingly; choices that are ultimately self-disinterested, and God centered. When we truly love we participate in the work of the Architect of Creation and in the very Architecture itself. Today’s Feast, therefore, calls us to both the wonder of our human role and our capability and the humility and seriousness with which we must accept it.
Mary is the perfect expression of the simplicity and complexity of our human response. Unlike Eve, she chooses to cooperate with God’s “plan” but not without question: how can this be? Mary’s choice is one of trust in the Lord of her faith tradition. But it was certainly not a “blind” trust, rather her question demonstrated that Mary clearly used her human reason as well as her faith to know and follow her vocation. God became human and through Baptism restores to humans the full use of our gifts to participate in the incredible “plan” of creation. This is more than enough to ponder as we celebrate Mary’s conception and her “yes” to that unbelievable request of God that she become the human mother of the Logos.