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Mary’s holiness… and ours

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Mary’s holiness… and ours

On 8th December, we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, reflecting upon that great privilege given by the Son to his mother; a soul free from original sin.

To mark that feast when I was at school, the ‘Lily Procession’ was held on the second Sunday in Advent (still is, in fact).  We processed around the school chapel and immediate surroundings singing the Immaculata Litany whilst bearing lighted torches.  It was always a beautiful act of devotion – and I never had my hair or mantilla singed nor (knowingly) singed anyone else’s!

The Immaculata Litany contained about two dozen titles for Our Lady and it’s on one of those I’d like to reflect today: Mater sanctissima, or Mary Most Holy. Now you could say that it was easy peasy lemon squeezey for Mary to be holy – having been conceived free from original sin – but such a view perhaps tells us more about the way we think of holiness than about Mary’s sanctity.

For us, a large part of our journey in grace towards holiness is spent overcoming the results of original sin* and working to keep the latent tendency to sin in check.  We struggle against our pride, laziness, greed, jealousy, anger and so on, and just when we think that we have, through grace, won a scanty little triumph in one place, so we trip up and fall down in another.  It is perhaps like trying to climb the mountain of the Lord but having to use the ‘down’ escalator.

Because of this, we can lose sight of the top of the mountain and think that ‘running to stand still’ is our only aim.  We can spend so much of our spiritual energies combating vice (or cancelling out the ‘minus’) that we can lose sight of our mission to make ‘thy kingdom come’ (the ‘plus’ side of things). What about Mary’s holiness, then?  Being conceived free from original sin, she was spared that struggle against herself: grace would not have had a purifying function in her.  She needed to be free from that negative struggle because of the enormity of her specific vocation.  But she still needed to climb the mountain of the Lord.  Her path to holiness was – like ours – forged through sanctifying grace and yet it was radically different from ours: different but not easier.

The briefest look at her life reveals a life of real, hard work and heroic virtue.  Because she did not need to overcome the effects of original sin in herself, she was able to give herself fully to helping Jesus build up his kingdom and working for the redemption of mankind. The Immaculate Conception gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the work of grace in our lives.  The example of Mary shows us what grace could accomplish in us, if only we co-operate fully with it.  Yes, she was conceived free from original sin but she was, after all, only human, just like us.   All we need do is co-operate faithfully with grace and we will get there, in the end. ________________________ *What’s that?  Doesn’t baptism cancel out original sin?  Good question!  At birth we lacked sanctifying grace and although original sin was wiped out through the first grace we received at baptism, its consequences have, in some way, remained.  Perhaps it’s like a wound that is healed but leaves behind a scar and a weakness.

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