Advent, Blessed Mother, Gospel, Mary, Theology, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

The Immaculate Conception – Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Sunday 20 December

Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


If you’ve been keeping up with the readings this Advent, you’ll notice that today’s Gospel is the same Scripture that we read on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her reflection for that day, Amanda Alley wrote about how God gives us sufficient grace for each thing he asks of us. 

Today, I want to talk about Mary and her Immaculate Conception. Some people struggle to understand how we can claim that Mary was conceived without original sin.

Where is this in the Bible? 

Today’s reading tells us that the Angel approached Mary and said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” (Lk 1:28). As articulated by Pope Piux IX, our Church understands “full of grace” to mean that “the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus). 

If you read this passage next to Gabriel telling Zechariah about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, you’ll notice that the stories are very similar, but how Gabriel addresses each person is quite different.  The angel appears to Zechariah and simply calls him by his name, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah” (Lk 1:13). In contrast, the angel greets Mary, “Hail, full of grace” (Lk 1:28) and later uses Mary’s name only later. This initial greeting — “Hail, full of grace” — is unique.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, spoke at the MidAtlantic Congress in 2019 and noted that the Roman Catholic Church has a carefully articulated theology about the Eucharist, in part, because the Church had to defend her beliefs from attack. Similarly, the Eastern Orthodoxy has a well-developed theology of praying with icons because iconography was attacked as idolatry. (View minutes 17-20 of this recording for the specific remarks).

Sometimes external pressure moves us to declare or reaffirm truths that we already know. Like the Eucharist and iconography, the Catholic Church articulated the Immaculate Conception as “dogma” in 1854, not because Mary’s Conception without original sin was a new concept, but because the belief was under attack. 

If Mary’s Immaculate Conception makes sense to you, that is a grace. If this teaching is hard for you to understand, I recommend the book A Biblical Walk with Mary by Dr. Edward Sri as a good starting point.

If you’re struggling with a teaching of the Church, find a friend to help you learn. We’re all students. Ask for God’s grace to understand.

Elizabeth Tomlin

Meditation

Have you ever struggled to understand a teaching of the Faith? What helped you to get through it?


Dignity, Encyclical

I See You; You Matter

**Elizabeth here – I’m very glad to share with my readers that my dear friend (and fellow redhead) Erin Raymond is contributing to the blog this week.  Erin is a gifted speaker, former stand-up comic and speaks frequently about Catholic theology of the body. Her wit and wisdom make her a very compelling speaker to young adult and college age audiences, in particular.  This reflection is from observations she made when we attended a large Catholic conference earlier this spring. Enjoy!** 

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This is my very first blog, which seems a little weird in 2019, but there you go. I may have never attempted this had it not been for a near-midnight bar conversation with some Catholic authors at the Mid Atlantic Congress in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Said one man author to a table of women: I need some contributors for my blog – anyone interested? 

Woman author #1: It’s always kinda awkward to write a blog for someone’s page. 

Woman author #2: IKR? Who wants to hear what I have to say? 

Me: Are you kidding? Who doesn’t want to hear what I have to say? (said in a joking but not really joking manner).

I may have been joking, but the self-doubt in these talented women was palpable.

Do you recognize yourself in those comments? You have a desire to share the message that God has put on your heart, but somewhere in your psyche there a lack of confidence, fear, maybe even self-loathing?  There’s a chance that the insecurity demon may have jumped in and answer that question for you. 

If you’ve ever thought, “No one wants to hear what I have to say,” I want you to say very loudly, “GET THEE BEHIND ME SATAN!” Discouragement is not of God.

You are a beloved child of the King, and God would never speak to you that way, or permit you to belittle yourself. God loves your thoughts and ideas and wants you to share them wherever and whenever appropriate. 

Several years ago, I had the great fortune to take a class on St. John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens, with Msgr. Brian Donahue at West Point, New York. (And thank goodness! – I could never have worked through it all alone!) It’s the first time I’ve really understood the value of overtly recognizing the dignity of another human being. 

In the encyclical, St. John Paul II helped me learn to look someone directly in the eyes and tell them, “I see you; you matter.” You – the person who has experienced one bad break too many and now finds herself in the soup kitchen line – I see you! 

You are a beloved daughter of God. You – the man who is so tired from working two jobs just to feed his family, and one of those jobs is cleaning the bathrooms at the airport – I see you and you are a beloved son of God.

And I say to you – reader of my very first blog: I see you. And I want to know your story. And I want to hear your thoughts. You are overflowing with the dignity of humanity, and you bring that dignity with you every step of your day. You bring the dignity to your job – don’t ever expect your job to bestow dignity on you (shout out to JPII for that nugget of wisdom). 
One of my favorite saints, St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world.” I challenge you to look out with those holy eyes, and see the world as God made it.  Look at others with compassion. See their dignity as a person created in the image and likeness of God. I especially challenge you to start with your own dignity, worth, and value. Look at yourself in the mirror with God’s eyes. What do you see?