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                         Layman's View of the Immaculate Conception

       The Immaculate Conception celebrated on December 8th, is a doctrine that's sometimes misunderstood.   It is also a belief that has relevance to certain problems of today.
      It helps to place the Immaculate Conception in the context of human history.   God created us to know, love and serve Him, and be happy with Him hereafter.  At the dawn of human existence, Adam and Eve had it made.  They were happy in the Garden of Paradise, had great knowledge, did not have to suffer sickness nor death, and had harmony within their beings.  In addition, beyond their natural life as humans, they had a supernatural life called sanctifying grace, which somehow is a sharing in the life of God.  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 also lost their other special gifts which we would've inherited.   Here we have a man representing the race whose action was decisive for all humans to come after him, and a woman, though she acted only for herself and did not directly cause our plight, was yet instrumental in it.   The devil instigated the bitterness of the fall, but it was Adam's choice that brought it about.
         That we are born deprived of this sanctifying grace is essentially what is known as original sin.  
       In the course of time Christ would redeem us, acting on behalf of the race.   His mother would be instrumental in our Redemption.  We see a parallel here developing.  Whereas the Fall of Man took place in the Garden of Paradise, by the taking of a fruit from a certain tree after Eve was tempted by a fallen angel, the Redemption by Christ would begin with a good angel approaching Mary and end with the sufferings of her Son: first, in the Garden of Gethsemane and finally upon the tree of the cross.   The Gospel of Luke refers to Him as the fruit of the womb.  Whereas in the Fall, the fruit was taken off the tree, in the redemptive reversal of man's misfortune, the Fruit of Mary's womb was put upon the tree.
      It is Catholic belief that sanctifying grace is imparted to us in Baptism, which washes away the stain of original sin.  We still have to deal, however, with the punishments that we inherit through this sin: suffering, ignorance, death and a strong inclination to sin.
      Even though Mary was immaculately conceived, she was still subject to suffering and to Redemption.  In light of the merits of her Son, the Savior of the race, and by a grace and privilege of God, she was preserved from "all stain of original sin."   This extraordinary intervention by God happened "in the first instant of her conception."  This is known as her Immaculate Conception.  She also fully possessed sanctifying grace at this moment.  
        I read something along this line which helps us understand this.  Think of a pitfall concealed on a footpath in the woods.  We come along and fall into it and need to be rescued.  Mary came along, and was pulled back before she fell in.  She was saved beforehand.  
        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 in the womb, He was wrapped 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 was the Immaculate Conception," she said "I am."
        It is at and from the time of conception that a new life must be respected, and that is at the union of the reproductive cells, even 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 tiny or undeveloped it is, it destroys a human life.  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 temple a-building.  They sacrifice the little one and spill its blood where it should be safe, in the temple of its mother and desecrate the temple.
      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 does 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 sharing His life with us through grace. 
      Her Immaculate Conception was the way the latter two of these were accomplished in us.  We should be grateful for this privilege of hers.  It was and is our AVEnue to sharing in greatness.
                                                                                      
―John Riedell
 

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