Monday, December 8, 2008

It Was Not Enough

- or -
Why I love the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

This morning I happened to be thinking about the concept of "priceless" on my way to school. It is a term the economists would generally avoid. Even a "priceless" work of art like the Mona Lisa can have a price placed upon it. If dollar values seem problematic, think of this: would an art museum trade a Michelangelo for the Mona Lisa? Five Michelangelos? What about ten? Sooner or later we could set a price.

But there are a handful of circumstances where something can truly be called "priceless", where someone is literally willing to pay any price. One of the most notable examples are the martyrs, who gave everything for their Christian faith. Even the most cynical economists would have to admit that, for the martyrs, the faith was priceless.

For various reasons my afternoon was frustrating and by the time I got to mass this evening I was in a rather foul mood. So as I was trying to pray before mass, I was not exactly thinking about what we are celebrating (in spite of the fact that today is the patronal feast for the United States). But as soon as mass began, I was reminded that today is a solemnity. We had three priests, in their finest vestments, clouds of incense, a choir, the gloria... Clearly, no ordinary feast.

As the liturgy unfolded, I began to remember what it is that we celebrate. God, in His goodness, created the world and created us in His own image. But it was not enough: when we fell, He chose to redeem us. But it was not enough: He chose to conquer death and raise us on the last day. But it was not enough: He chose to come among us as a man, sharing in our very nature. But even that was not enough: in His superabundant generosity He decided to preserve the mother of His Son from the stain of original sin. Not because He had to, but because He wanted to. That is how much He loves us.

It is very appropriate that this solemnity falls during Advent, since the Immaculate Conception is such a harbinger of things to come, like a course of appetizers so incredible you almost forget that an even better meal is coming. If this is what God has done for the woman who gave birth to His Son, what mighty deeds will this Child work? What things are yet to come?

Today we remember a lowly woman - a girl, really - who came from a tiny people on the fringe of the Roman Empire. She said "yes" to sharing in the plan of a God for Whom nothing seems to be quite enough when it comes to loving us. And she chose to share in His salvific work, irrespective of what it might cost her. (She knew full well it might cost her life; she probably did not know about the seven sorrows awaiting her, though in time she embraced these too.) For Mary, doing God's will was priceless.

This evening four religious sisters from Italy (belonging to a very young community called the Apostles of the Interior Life) renewed their vows at mass. And as they did so I realized that they too were giving everything to share in that same superabundant life of grace.

I am unashamed to say that I wept at the thought of it all. It was a wholly insufficient response to such a mystery, but then how can we ever adequately respond to the Almighty? Today we celebrate a God Who gives and gives and continues to give, because that is Who He is.
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