Thursday, 8 December 2016

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary - 8 December

Readings: Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Psalm 98; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12: Luke 1:26-38  

Mariology is the part of theology that studies what the Scriptures and the Christian tradition teach us about Mary and her place in the history of our salvation. For the great Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner the Church's Mariology is simply the most beautiful part of its theology of grace.

In fact the Christian tradition has found in the single phrase 'full of grace' everything about Mary that subsequently emerged in the liturgical and devotional life of the Church. What emerged in the course of tradition was eventually incorporated in the Church's teaching with the solemn declarations of her Immaculate Conception and her bodily Assumption into heaven.

'Full of grace' - it is the name she bears in view of her mission, the one who is highly favoured, greatly blessed. She is to be the mother of the Lord and in that sense, pregnant with Him, she is full of grace. But in being prepared for that role, and in being sustained through the joys and sadnesses of it, she was always favoured and blessed, supported by the Eternal Trinity. She was sustained in her work of bearing, rearing and teaching her son, in her work of following him not just physically to Calvary but spiritually as the first disciple, the one who heard the Word of God and believed it and kept it and practised it.

The grace of Mary is personal to herself and to her mission in the Church. But it is also paradigmatic of the grace God bestows on His Bride, the Church. This Marian grace - of hearing and conceiving the Word, of meditating and treasuring it in our hearts, of bearing it into the world and carrying it to others - this is a grace of the entire Christian people. It is why Mary is called also Mother of the Church. Just as her Son is her image, so too the Church, His body, reflects in its life and activity, her life and activity in the service of God's Word.

In this work of new creation there is always the collaboration of the human creature with the designs and actions of God. It is to be repeated often: the first creation involves only the speaking of God: 'let there be light, and there was light'. The new creation involves also the speaking of human beings: 'let what you have said be done to me'. Mary is also the first to teach us this, that our co-operation with God's grace is an essential part of how the new creation comes about and of what the new creation means.

A fear of human beings in modern times is that the coming of Christ and of God will somehow threaten our freedom, weaken it and perhaps even make it redundant. Mary teaches us that the opposite is the case. To be 'full of grace' is to enter into a new space of freedom. To be 'full of grace' means not placing any obstacle, not even the slightest one, to the working of God's grace in us and through us. To be 'full of grace' does not mean losing our freedom in order to be completely at the disposal of God as blind instruments. To be 'full of grace' means gaining that freedom so as to be completely at the disposal of God, but to be at his disposal as the creatures that we are, intelligent and free, responsive and understanding, loving and creative.

To be 'full of grace' is not to lose anything of our dignity or our freedom. It is rather to enter into full possession of that dignity and of that freedom. It makes us to be children of God, living in communion with Him, sharing the life of the family that God is, and so being available with all our energy for the service of God's kingdom of love, justice and peace.

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