All fair art thou, O Mary: nor is original sin found in thee (Alleluia Verse).
Today’s glorious Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrates the dogma of the faith solemnly defined by Blessed Pius IX in 1854. It is the first of Our Lady’s privileges; that from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus, Christ, Saviour of human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin (Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus). Today we celebrate the purity and glory of our Mother in the order of grace. Yes, it is true that we are poor banished children of Eve, but more importantly, by grace we are children of Mary; and this fact should be for us a source of hope and consolation as we walk our own pilgrimage through life amidst the persecutions of the world and consolations of God.
At times it seems that humanity is on a march to human extinction. We have willfully forgotten and denied our origin in God and our ultimate destiny in Him: hence our obsession with what we euphemistically call ‘reproductive rights’ and ‘medical assistance in dying’. How is it that collectively we could embrace such a destructive world view? You might object that this is certainly not what you believe and uphold. Yet chances are that without much thought you accept as fact the theory of evolution. This theory is the genesis of what has become an almost universal culture of death. Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have horrible consequences.
In 1859, just one year after the apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes in France, Charles Darwin published his On the Origin of the Species, a work of scientific literature considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology and natural selection; ideas that are more easily understood and communicated as the survival of the fittest. A year earlier, in 1858, at the grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes Our Lady had come from Heaven to remind her children and all of humanity that like her, we too share an origin in God, for to Bernadette she said, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’. On April 24, 2005, almost one hundred and sixty years after these events, arguably the bloodiest and most destructive years in human history, at the Mass inaugurating his pontificate, Pope Benedict gently yet magisterially stated: We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each one of us is the result of a thought of God. Each one of us is willed, each one of us is loved, each one of us is necessary.
History does not necessarily repeat itself, but it rhymes; and so we who are mindful of history as a teacher of life (historia magistra vitae) must endeavour to see and judge developments and laws, amendments and motions, policies and practices not in isolation, not in the best interests of what is expedient but always in view of the truth of the human person, yes, even as a tiny person exists in the womb, as a being created in the image and likeness of God, and whose origin and destiny is in God Himself.
So today, on the Feast of her Immaculate Conception and every day, we look to Our Lady, as our teacher of life, our magistra vitae and at the school of Mary we learn the very first truth: that we have our origin and destiny in God. Especially as the forces of evil and death seem to be gathering strength in our nation where to our shame, a form of national sin of blasphemy and sacrilege against the sanctity and inviolability of human life has become – so it seems – a point of pride, we look to Our Lady for strength and encouragement.
Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array? O Mary, Conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee! Respice stellam, voca Mariam! Look to the star, call upon Mary.
These are words from a sermon of St. Bernard of Clairvaux:
If the storms of temptation arise, if you crash against the rocks of tribulations, look to the star, call upon Mary. If you are tossed about on the waves of pride, of ambition, of slander, of hostility, look to the star, call upon Mary … if you begin to be swallowed up by the abyss of depression and despair, think of Mary! In dangers, in anxiety, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary … When you are terrified by judgement or in despair, think of Mary. If she holds you, you will not fall, if she protects you, you need not fear. Our Lady is our guide and safe haven in life…now and – perhaps most especially, at the hour of our death.
In Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, the poet puts these words in the mouth of St. Bernard of Clairvaux as he gazes on the beauty of Our Lady in Paradise:
O Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son,
Humble beyond all creatures and more exalted,
Predestined turning point of God’s intention.
Her Immaculate Conception truly is the turning point of God’s intention and in her God’s intention is made manifest. Our Lady is the first of God’s children created and redeemed by the Precious Blood of Our Saviour for the glory of Heaven. She who is full grace from the moment of her Immaculate Conception received the fulfillment of grace’s promise in the glory of her bodily Assumption and Queenship, her last privilege.
All fair art thou, O Mary: nor is original sin found in thee. In celebrating this glorious Feast, we ask her to obtain for us pure and tender hearts; such that we might learn to perceive and delight in the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty. The path of beauty (via pulchritudinis) is a privileged path or way of coming to know the truth of God. Our Lady who is tota pulchra – completely beautiful in her Immaculate Conception is the best of teachers. All fair art thou, O Mary: nor is original sin found in thee. Our Marian celebrations should make the mysteries more wondrous and the doctrines more luminous becasue our Beautiful Mother is both magistra vitae et fidei – teacher of life and faith.
De Maria numquam satis. Of Mary there is never enough. Again, these are the words of St. Bernard and today and always we make them our very own, especially as we pray for and look to the Triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. It is to her Immaculate Heart that we look for guidance, consolation and safety in our troubled times. My Immaculate Heart is your sure refuge and the way that will lead you to God. These are words well known to us, spoken by Our Lady precisely for our times as humanity in rebellion and the Church in a state of disorientation both appear to be marching towards auto-demolition. We look to Our Lady, Predestined turning point of God’s intention. It may be that the greatest challenge that we face at this precise moment in human history is forgetting God’s intention for us and for humanity. We have been created for glory: to know, love and serve God in this world and to share His Beatitude for all eternity. In dangers, in anxiety, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary … When you are terrified by judgement or in despair, think of Mary. If she holds you, you will not fall, if she protects you, you need not fear. Let us celebrate this Feast with great joy and devotion. May she who is both our Mother and our Queen watch over us and lead us to Heaven.