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                         A Layman's View of the Immaculate Conception

      The Immaculate Conception, here depicted in art, is honored with a feast day on the 8th of December.  And well it should be, for it is a doctrine and belief to be celebrated.  It recalls a special intervention by God into the life of the maiden of Nazareth, at its very commencement. It prepared her for a great role in human history.  Because of it and her life to follow, she became a very special person.  While it happened centuries ago, and pertains to the important work of Salvation, it is also has a relevance to certain problems of today.  And sadly, it is also a doctrine that some in the world have badly misunderstood.
      It may help to place this belief in the context of  the history of the race.  God created us to know, love and serve Him here on earth, and be happy with Him hereafter.  At the dawn of human existence, Adam and Eve had it made.  They had the gifts of happiness in the Garden of Paradise, great knowledge, freedom from suffering and death, and harmony within their beings.  In addition, beyond their natural human life, they had the supernatural gift known as sanctifying grace, which elevates man to beyond the natural order.  This grace enabled them to go to heaven.  All they had to do was obey.  
      The story of the fall of man and the loss of Paradise is a familiar one.  They lost the precious gift of sanctifying grace, and also the other special gifts enumerated above, that we would've inherited had Adam not sinned.   Here we had a man whose act was decisive for his descendants, and a woman who was the first to succumb to the devious deceit of a fallen angel.  The devil instigated the Fall of our first parents, but it was the disobedience of Adam, that brought the consequences of sin upon us, from our origin in him.

     
That we are born into the world deprived of sanctifying grace is essentially what is known as original sin.  
     In the course of time Christ would intervene to redeem us.  In the narratives of the Fall and the Redemption, we can see certain parallel of elements: a man and a woman, an angel, and the elements of a garden, a tree and a fruit.
      Adam the man, for good or ill, acted on behalf of the race, and Christ as God and man also acted for the race, in suffering and dying to redeem us. 
Eve the woman was instrumental in the Fall, and Mary the woman was instrumental in our Redemption. 
      The Fall of Man took place in the Garden of Paradise, where God's will was disobeyed.  Eve was approached by an fallen angel, listened to his temptation, took the forbidden fruit from the tree, ate of it and gave it to Adam, who ate of it.   The intent of the fallen angel was evil, and as the devil, the word evil comprises most of his name.
       The Redemption by Christ began on earth with the good angel Gabriel being sent to earth by God.  Gabriel approached the Virgin Mary and saluted her, saying "Hail, full of grace."  The Redemption thus began, would end with the sufferings and death of her Son, in time yet off in the future.   The sufferings of Christ's would begin with his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  After His bloody sweat, He would be seized, tried and forced to carry the wood of the cross to Calvary, where He would be nailed to it and crucified. 
      While there were parallel elements in both narratives, there were also the great reversals that took place in the restoration of sanctifying grace and the reopening of heaven.  And we may also seem other reversals within the stories.  Whereas Eve plucked the forbidden fruit from off the tree, the fruit of Mary's womb was put upon the tree of the Cross.  In the Fall, we see a bad angel speaking to Eve (Eva in Latin), and in the Redemption, we see a good angel speaking to Mary, with the salutation, Hail (Ave in Latin). 
      It is Catholic belief that sanctifying grace is imparted to us at Baptism, when the stain of original sin is washed away.  However, we still have to deal with the punishments that we inherit through this sin: suffering, ignorance, death and a strong inclination to sin.
      In light of the merits of her Son, the Savior of the race, and by a grace and privilege of God, Mary was preserved from "all stain of original sin."   This extraordinary intervention by God happened "in the first instant of her conception," the moment when sanctifying grace was bestowed upon her.  This is known as her Immaculate Conception. 
      Even though Mary was immaculately conceived, she was still subject to suffering and in need of a Savior.  Mary says this herself in Luke 1:47: "And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." 
I read something along this line which helps us understand this.  Think of a pitfall on a footpath through a woods, concealed by fallen branches and leaves.  We come along and fall into the pit and need to be rescued.  Mary comes along, and is held back before she can fall.  She is saved from falling.  
      The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception redounds to God's glory.  Never could the devil cackle in hell and say to Christ that He was born of a woman who was once under the shadow of the sin that he instigated.   Christ is holy and perfect, and within the womb, He was enwrapped in the holiness and perfection of His mother.  She was untouched by sin.  This is fitting for the glory of God.  To take away Mary's Immaculate Conception, is to take away from God.
       Her Immaculate Conception has relevance to certain problems of today.  When Mary appeared at Lourdes to Bernadette in 1858, Bernadette sought to know who she was, and Mary responded by saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception."
        Here she was, appearing to 14-year-old Bernadette and said to be about same age as this visionary, identifying herself as she was at the first moment of her existence, her conception in the womb of her mother.   Mary did not say "I am a result of an Immaculate Conception" nor "I was the Immaculate Conception," she said "I am."  She identifies herself as she was at that very first moment.  It is supportive of the unborn being persons at conception.
      It is at and from the time of conception that a new life must be respected, at the union of the reproductive cells before implantation occurs.  Whatever destroys the unborn's life from conception on, is killing a human being and is wrong, whether by surgical or chemical abortion, or whether by so-called birth control pills that interfere with implantation and cause the death of the tiny one.  It is why embryonic stem cell research is so wrong.  No matter how little or undeveloped it is, a human life is destroyed in the research.  These practices and anything akin to them, cry to heaven.  
      Scripture tells us our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  Sadly some destroy that little temple a-building.  They sacrifice the tiny one where it should be safe, within the temple of its own mother.   To the sadness of heaven, they desecrate both the temple of the child and the mother. 
      While we are not immaculately conceived as the Blessed Virgin Mary was, we've been treated as rather privileged creatures ourselves.  In the presence of her cousin Elizabeth, Mary said of God, "...he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is His name."  We may join her in saying this, for God has done great things for us as well.  He does so, by not only creating us in the first place, but also by making our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit and by sharing His life with us through grace. 
      The Redemptive Road that Jesus would follow to the hill of the Cross, had its beginning with the
AVEnue of the Annunciation and the Immaculate Conception that preceded it.  Our road of life is meant to intersect at the Crossroad of Calvary, where the Redemptive Way will takes us across the earthly terrain to the hill of heaven.
                                                                                     
                                                                                                    
―John Riedell

        Above we see a portion of a mosaic of the Blessed Virgin in the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in  Springfield, Illinois, a treasure on the wall surrounded by black and gold Italian marble and located behind the altar.  It is copied from a painting done in 1678 by the Spanish Baroque painter, Bartolome Esteban Murillo for the Seville Cathedral.  This work is also called The Immaculate Conception of Soult, because a general  of Napoleon's named Soult, confiscated it in 1813.  In 1940, it was  returned to the Prado Museum. 
       While the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception occurred at the outset of the Blessed Virgin's life
, the mosaic and the original seem to depict her Assumption into heaven at the end of her earthly life.   The privilege actually spiritually fitted her for heaven from the very beginning.  So artistically depicted this way, apparently between earth and heaven, it fits her special circumstances.   This special privilige of hers set the stage for her Motherhood of  Jesus , and as such ,of God.  When Jesus was virginally conceived in her, which is separate from her Immaculate Conception, there was a union of Heaven and earth.  It's interesting to note that Murillo painted her as a person, 180 years before Mary declared herself as the Immaculate Conception to Bernadette.
 

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