Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Many people get confused with this feastday! Just to explain it is she, Mary herself, who is the Immaculate Conception; the day does not refer to Mary's conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit, but to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, by Mary's father, St. Joachim. What makes her conception immaculate is not that she was conceived by the Holy Spirit of a virgin, as was Jesus but that from the very moment of her conception; she was filled with grace by God. The Opening Collect for the Mass today begins: "Father, You prepared the Virgin Mary to be the worthy Mother of Your Son..." As this prayer emphasizes, the Immaculate Conception is not so much about honouring Mary, but making Mary a worthy bearer of God the Son in the flesh.
The Church, East and West, has always held that Mary was no ordinary mother, but the Mother of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. With this come special graces and honours, not on account of who Mary is per se, but on account of who her Son is.

Andrew of Crete puts it eloquently when he says that, Today humanity, in all the radiance of her immaculate nobility, receives its ancient beauty. The shame of sin had darkened the splendour and attraction of human nature; but when the Mother of the Fair One par excellence is born, this nature regains in her person its ancient privileges and is fashioned according to a perfect model truly worthy of God.... The reform of our nature begins today and the aged world, subjected to a wholly divine transformation, receives the first fruits of the second creation”.  With God, there is always a second chance. Mary is the new Eve!

For me it is a special feastday for it was on this celebration back in 1998 that I finally mustered up to the courage to take the first step to begin the journey of religious life. At the time I was on a discernment weekend with the sisters in Dublin, I was 17 years old and in my final year of secondary school. It was a very powerful weekend in which I participated in a renewal of religious vows and ordination to the diaconate of three young men. The Lord let his voice be heard quite strongly that weekend and I realised I had to stop battling with Him and try to be his Bride and to live a life of holiness as a sister. Throughout the years, the presence of Mary has never left me, even in the darkest moments and by bearing her name, I am constantly reminded of her maternal protection and of my vocation to walk with priests just as Mary walked with her Son, from Bethlehem to Calvary, and beyond!How consoling to know that we can find this same safety and protection beneath Our Lady’s mantle. We need not be hesitant; we can simply reach out and grasp it. It is big enough to cover all of her children and offered with an abiding love, from the most maternal of Hearts.

Today, throughout the world, our Blessed Mother will be honoured in many ways. Many of the sisters in our Congregation recall their First or Perpetual Profession today. We have many sisters who bear the name 'Immacolata', 'Concepcion', 'Maria'...but we all have the name 'Mary' in virtue of our religious profession we are happy to have that! Here, our Oblate brothers even have an extra special commemoration on the 17th of February, the date their Rule was approved in 1826. Happy feastday to all my friends in the United States, Brazil, Korea, Spain, Portugal, Nicaragua, Philippines and Ireland...all these countries have been placed under the patronage of Mary Immaculate! Wherever you are, may our Lady continue to intercede for you and may you have the time today to whisper a prayer to her and thank God for her Immaculate Conception!