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An Unforeseeable Gift

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

First Reading: Genesis 3:9-15, 20

After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree,
the LORD God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.”
Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked?
You have eaten, then,
from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—
she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman,
“Why did you do such a thing?”
The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

Then the LORD God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this, you shall be banned
from all the animals
and from all the wild creatures;
on your belly shall you crawl,
and dirt shall you eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike at your head,
while you strike at his heel.”

The man called his wife Eve,
because she became the mother of all the living.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4

R. (1) Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12

Brothers and sisters:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved.

In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

NAB

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Today is my favorite celebration of the Church year. I once mistook it as a day to honor Christ’s divine conception, but it’s actually a celebration of our Blessed Mother’s conception—a reflection on the mystical moment that our Lord both created and redeemed a humble maiden, all so she could one day be worthy to carry our Savior in her own womb.

Why care so much about the Blessed Virgin Mary’s conception? She’s a mere human. Shouldn’t it be all about God?

It starts with the First Reading: Adam and Eve. They were God’s dream team, created to share with Him in Paradise. But by choosing to follow Satan’s lies instead of trusting God’s directions about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve rejected the headship of God. In doing so, they dragged all of humanity with them into the darkness of their free choice and their bitter fall from grace.

But our merciful God, He who created our hearts for His own, gave us another chance to choose Him above our selfish selves. He assembled a new dream team, a new Eve who could bring forth a new Adam, a literal re-birth of God and His headship into our desperate, broken world.

Yet this new Eve, this Mary of Nazareth, humble handmaiden that she was, could not by her own merit overcome the inherited broken nature set into motion by Adam and Eve. She needed our God.

It was He who chose to pre-redeem Mary at the moment of her conception, that she might be worthy, body and soul, to bear the God-son. God, in his wisdom, ordained every minuscule detail of this crucial preparation—long before science ever “discovered” it was Mary’s own DNA which directly gave Christ His human body, long before we understood the permanent cellular connection of mother and child in the discovery of microchimerism, meaning that Mary’s body, beyond housing the Holy Spirit and the God-son for nine months, was sinless and immaculate enough down to the most basic cellular level to house the cells of God for the rest of her life.

Through her pre-redemption, God reinstated the preternatural gifts squandered by Adam and Eve, enabling Mary to accept God’s perfect will above her own. Allowing her to humbly say yes to a plan which would require more strength than mere broken human will could bear, a plan which would ask her again and again to break her heart and embrace insufferable suffering, and watch her own Son die for the sake of the world’s salvation.

Yes, for all these reasons, God facilitated the Immaculate Conception, so that where Eve said no, Mary could choose to say yes. Far from this day being all about Mary, it all boils down to God’s love for you and me—gifting us as sin-filled humans in a mind-blowing way with another chance to join Him in eternity.

Mary’s singular role on earth in and heaven is to point us to what God has done for mankind. She never fails to acknowledge the eternal debt of gratitude that she—and we—owe to our redeeming Savior. On this Holy Day of Obligation, let’s honor her example by remembering that, like her, we can’t do it on our own; we need to accept God’s grace and love above our own will in order to live our fullest life.

Megan Hjelmstad is a wife, mom, writer and sometimes soldier whose real passion is equal parts faith and chocolate. You can find out more about her here.

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