Monday, December 8, 2014

In Praise of the Immaculate Conception

O Mother, how pure you are, you are untouched by sin;
yours was the privilege to carry God within you.

Divine Office
If you wanted to be a great baseball player, what would you need? First and foremost, you need innate talent. You either got it or your don't. But then you would need someone who could help develop your natural talent. Wouldn't you want to be coached and taught by the best? Certainly it is the dream of every wannabe major league baseball player to take the traits of all the best baseball players in history - Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, etc. etc. - and roll them all into one person who would be your own personal coach. And to make the pot sweeter, your coach would have access to the Commissioner of Professional Baseball, and just by his connections, your coach would be able to get you onto any team you wished. When you messed up and didn't have such a good day, your coach would be able to smooth it over with all of the powers that be so that they would barely be aware of your weaknesses and failings. In time, all of your failings would actually disappear and you would become that great baseball player you always dreamed of being.

As Christians, we have been given a much loftier and immensely more difficult goal and even higher obstacles to overcome than one aspiring to be a first rate baseball player.

Jesus Christ laid it out as follows: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). Our Lord requires each one of us to become perfect and sinless sons of God.  And He demands this even though He knows that not one of us has the innate capability or "talent" to do so.  On our own, it is easier for an ant to become an elephant than for a fallen human being to become spiritually perfect.

Of course, Our Lord has given us many ways in which to achieve holiness and spiritual perfection. First are the sacraments - baptism, confession, the Eucharist, etc. We have the Mass in which we present the bloodless sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father in atonement for our sins. We have the written Word of God - the Bible. We have the prayers of the angels and saints. We have the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit Himself as our guide and comforter who will never let us down. These are just a few of the many spiritual aids we have been given.

And yet we stumble and fall constantly.  Our sinful nature keeps pulling us down.  It seems like we fail more often than we succeed.

Just as someone aspiring to be a great ball player would want an expertly skilled coach, so we, as Christians, need an expert skilled in following Christ. We need someone to hold our hand, to guide our every step. We need this someone to be compassionate and understanding of our sinful state. And when we do inevitably fall, we need someone who can go to the Lord and ask Him for the grace we are too stupid and ignorant to ask for on our own.

And that is exactly what Our Lord gave us as He was dying on the Cross.   This was the meaning behind His words to His Mother and St. John as He was dying on the cross (Matthew 19:26-27):
When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. 
On this day, December 8, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary, declared a dogma by the Church in 1854. This states that Mary was conceived without sin and that she remained in that sinless state for the rest of her life. Mary knew the secret to perfection. Mary lived her life in perfect conformity to God, never once wavering. She was able to live her life untainted by sin of any kind.

Apart from the Holy Trinity, we can find no better teacher and guide than the Blessed Virgin. And that is exactly why Our Lord gave His Most Blessed Mother to us, to be our mother.

St. Louis de Montfort writes ("True Devotion to Mary"):
Poor children of Mary, you are extremely weak and changeable. Your human nature is deeply impaired. It is sadly true that you have been fashioned from the same corrupted nature as the other children of Adam and Eve. But do not let that discourage you. Rejoice and be glad! Here is a secret which I am revealing to you, a secret unknown to most Christians, even the most devout.
St. Louis de Montfort further writes :
As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus it naturally follows that the most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites, and consecrates us most completely to Jesus. Now of all God's creatures Mary is the most conformed to Jesus. It therefore follows that, of all devotions, devotion to her makes for the most effective consecration and conformity to him. The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus.
That is why perfect consecration to Jesus is but a perfect and complete consecration of oneself to the Blessed Virgin, which is the devotion I teach; or in other words, it is the perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy baptism.
Sinless Virgin, let us follow joyfully in your footsteps;
draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness.
Divine Office
Mary is our role model. She is what we must all attain to - total spiritual perfection. But she is not only meant to be our role model. Our Lord gave her to us as our own personal coach! Our Lord told St. John to take Mary into his household, and He tells each of us that we must take Mary into our "household" and make her a central part of our lives. As St. Louis de Montfort said, just as Christ came to us through Mary, we must go to Him through her. It is through her that we receive all graces. 

Our Lord said that "among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist."  And how was John the Baptist sanctified?  It was at the moment when the pregnant Mary, carrying the unborn Jesus, came to see her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist.  And so Mary has done ever since.  It is her role to bring Jesus Christ to each of us.  As St. Louis de Montfort wrote, Mary "is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus."  

The actual tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe
In just a few short days we will be celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I find this the most amazing of all the Marian apparitions.  At the time of this appearance, the Aztecs ruled the land and were especially barbaric, performing thousands of human sacrifices every year.  The missionaries were despairing of ever converting them, as the Indians seemed to resist every effort made to bring Christ to them.

Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico and told him to tell the bishop that she wanted church built on the site where she appeared. The bishop was, of course, skeptical, and asked St. Juan Diego to bring him a sign. The Blessed Mother appeared again and gave Juan Diego roses to put into his tilma. This was miraculous enough as it was winter time and nothing was blooming. When Juan Diego came to the bishop to give him the roses, the bishop fell back in amazement, not at the roses but at what he saw on the tilma. There was a beautiful portrait of Our Lady. Interestingly, Our Lady was pregnant in this portrait just as she was when she sanctified John the Baptist. 
The Church was built and the tilma put in a prominent place.  As a result, the largest conversion in history took place.  Nine million of the 10 million Aztec Indians were converted in just a few short years.  And how was this accomplished?  By great preaching?  By beating people over the head and telling them what rotten sinners they were?  No.  Our Blessed Mother physically brought Jesus to the Indians, just as she did to John the Baptist.  This happened in 1519.  The Tilma is still displayed in Mexico City, and it is estimated that 20 million people see it every year.  

You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel;
you are the fairest honor of our race.

Divine Office
Mary is the greatest of all of creation because she is the most fully conformed to the Trinity. She is the daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. As St. Louis de Montfort wrote:
Mary is the supreme masterpiece of Almighty God and he has reserved the knowledge and possession of her for himself. She is the glorious Mother of God the Son who chose to humble and conceal her during her lifetime in order to foster her humility. He called her "Woman" as if she were a stranger, although in his heart he esteemed and loved her above all men and angels. Mary is the sealed fountain and the faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit where only he may enter. She is the sanctuary and resting-place of the Blessed Trinity where God dwells in greater and more divine splendour than anywhere else in the universe, not excluding his dwelling above the cherubim and seraphim. No creature, however pure, may enter there without being specially privileged.
The Lord God said to the serpent: I will make you enemies,
you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring;
she will crush your head, alleluia.

Divine Office
Mary is the supreme enemy of the devil.
Thus the most fearful enemy that God has set up against the devil is Mary, his holy Mother. From the time of the earthly paradise, although she existed then only in his mind, he gave her such a hatred for his accursed enemy, such ingenuity in exposing the wickedness of the ancient serpent and such power to defeat, overthrow and crush this proud rebel, that Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin's, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God. Moreover, God has given Mary such great power over the evil spirits that, as they have often been forced unwillingly to admit through the lips of possessed persons, they fear one of her pleadings for a soul more than the prayers of all the saints, and one of her threats more than all their other torments.
This "supreme masterpiece", this greatest enemy of the devil, is the one whom Jesus Christ has given to each one of us as our own loving mother and guide to heaven.

Mary never left her Son.  She was there from His conception by the Holy Spirit to the moment He breathed His last breath on the Cross.  She is the most loyal of all His creation.  And she offers that same loyalty to each one of us.  She promises never to let go of us.  We are separated from the Lord when we sin. But just as Mary stayed with the apostles even when they ran away in fear, so she will stay with us when we stumble and fall.  And we can be sure that as long as we stay close to Mary, we are close to the Lord.  

St. Louis de Montfort tells us that unless Mary is our mother, God cannot be our Father:
Since Mary produced the head of the elect, Jesus Christ, she must also produce the members of that head, that is, all true Christians. A mother does not conceive a head without members, nor members without a head. If anyone, then, wishes to become a member of Jesus Christ, and consequently be filled with grace and truth , he must be formed in Mary through the grace of Jesus Christ, which she possesses with a fullness enabling her to communicate it abundantly to true members of Jesus Christ, her true children.
St. Louis de Montfort also tells us that when we take Mary into our lives, she begins immediately to conform our will to Her Son.
Mary is called by St Augustine, and is indeed, the "living mold of God".  In her alone the God-man was formed in his human nature without losing any feature of the Godhead. In her alone, by the grace of Jesus Christ, man is made godlike as far as human nature is capable of it. A sculptor can make a statue or a life-like model in two ways: 
(i) By using his skill, strength, experience and good tools to produce a statue out of hard, shapeless matter; 
(ii) By making a cast of it in a mold. The first way is long and involved and open to all sorts of accidents. It only needs a faulty stroke of the chisel or hammer to ruin the whole work. The second is quick, easy, straightforward, almost effortless and inexpensive, but the mold must be perfect and true to life and the material must be easy to handle and offer no resistance.
No human being has ever been as perfectly conformed to God as was the Blessed Mother.  She is that perfect mold to which all of us need to be conformed.  Just as she was in perfect union with her Son, so we will also be in perfect conformity with Jesus Christ.
Mary is the great mold of God, fashioned by the Holy Spirit to give human nature to a Man who is God by the hypostatic union, and to fashion through grace men who are like to God. No godly feature is missing from this mold. Everyone who casts himself into it and allows himself to be moulded will acquire every feature of Jesus Christ, true God, with little pain or effort, as befits his weak human condition. He will take on a faithful likeness to Jesus with no possibility of distortion, for the devil has never had and never will have any access to Mary, the holy and immaculate Virgin, in whom there is not the least suspicion of a stain of sin.
Mary is truly one of the greatest gifts from Our Lord.  She is the personification of His love and devotion to us.  Nothing in His creation is more precious to Him than His mother, and yet He freely gives her to us.   No saint has ever achieved holiness and perfection apart from her.  As St. Louis de Montfort told us, Our Lord could have chosen another way.  
With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, "I am he who is". Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of his will and the manifestation of his glory. To do all things he has only to will them.
But the fact remains that Mary is the path given to us by the Trinity, and if we wish to become one with our Creator, she is the path we must choose:
However, I declare that, considering things as they are, because God has decided to begin and accomplish his greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since he created her, we can safely believe that he will not change his plan in the time to come, for he is God and therefore does not change in his thoughts or his way of acting.
God the Father gave his only Son to the world only through Mary. Whatever desires the patriarchs may have cherished, whatever entreaties the prophets and saints of the Old Law may have had for 4,000 years to obtain that treasure, it was Mary alone who merited it and found grace before God by the power of her prayers and the perfection of her virtues. "The world being unworthy," said Saint Augustine, "to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father, he gave his Son to Mary for the world to receive him from her."
Do not neglect this greatest of gifts.  Devotion to Mary, this greatest of God's creation, is without doubt the surest way to Jesus Christ.  St. Louis de Montfort said it best:
The saints have said wonderful things of Mary, the holy City of God, and, as they themselves admit, they were never more eloquent and more pleased than when they spoke of her. And yet they maintain that the height of her merits rising up to the throne of the Godhead cannot be perceived; the breadth of her love which is wider than the earth cannot be measured; the greatness of the power which she wields over one who is God cannot be conceived; and the depths of her profound humility and all her virtues and graces cannot be sounded. What incomprehensible height! What indescribable breadth! What immeasurable greatness! What an impenetrable abyss!

You made Mary our mother. Through her intercession grant strength to the weak,
 comfort to the sorrowing, pardon to sinners,

 salvation and peace to all.
Mary, full of grace, intercede for us.

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