Immaculate Mary: An end to earthly corruption

I spent the day tending to my mom. She has a few ailments that sapped her energy during the night and this morning. Today for the first time she began using a walker. A sad sight indeed. But she recovered to almost normal as the day progressed—fitting, because today is the vigil of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

At Mass tonight, I was delighted to pray for my mom while celebrating with my parish family this most profound intervention in history by God: The conception of Mary unstained by original sin.

As I prayed and decompressed from the stress of the day, I couldn’t help but ponder how my mom’s age and ailments are taking her independence and vigor—how sin is corrupting her earthly body, as it does to us all. Our world, too, has a habit of decaying even without the intrusion of the fallen human race. As St. Paul tells us, all creation is groaning (Rom. 8:22). But it groans even more so because of us. Indeed, it is telling that in the covenant with Noah, the Lord God specifically states that all animals will have “fear and dread” because of the rule of sinful man. (Gen. 9:2)

Old age, cosmic groanings, human pollution—they’re all the result of sin but they are all ultimately impotent in light of the Immaculate Conception.

Catholics are often criticized by our Protestant kin for devoting so much attention and liturgical energy to Mary, who is not God. And yet ecology helps us grasp the importance of celebrating and loving the great Mother of God, Mary, Most Holy. For it is exactly because she is a creature that she gives the rest of us great hope. It is because she offered herself to God that God prepared her conception unlike any human before of after. In doing so, the salvation of man and all creation was set in motion by the God who is love.

And it is this salvation that will mend and recreate not only corrupt, deceased human bodies, but all creation.

The relation between people, sin, the planet, and pollution was profoundly stated by Pope Benedict XVI in a welcoming speech for his 2008 trip to Sydney’s World Youth Day. In reflecting on the now common experience of air travel, the Holy Father noted that his trip to the land down under was a demanding one.

Yet the views afforded of our planet from the air were truly wondrous. The sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north African desert, the lushness of Asia’s forestation, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the horizon upon which the sun rose and set, and the majestic splendour of Australia’s natural beauty which I have been able to enjoy these last couple of days; these all evoke a profound sense of awe. It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story - light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth, and living creatures; all of which are “good” in God’s eyes (cf. Gen 1:1 - 2:4). Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator: “how majestic is your name in all the earth?” (Ps 8:1).
And there is more—something hardly perceivable from the sky—men and women, made in nothing less than God’s own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). At the heart of the marvel of creation are you and I, the human family “crowned with glory and honour” (Ps8:5). How astounding! With the Psalmist we whisper: “what is man that you are mindful of him?” (Ps 8:4). And drawn into silence, into a spirit of thanksgiving, into the power of holiness, we ponder.
What do we discover? Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption. Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought. God’s wondrous creation is sometimes experienced as almost hostile to its stewards, even something dangerous. How can what is “good” appear so threatening?
And there is more. What of man, the apex of God’s creation? Every day we encounter the genius of human achievement. From advances in medical sciences and the wise application of technology, to the creativity reflected in the arts, the quality and enjoyment of people’s lives in many ways are steadily rising. Among yourselves there is a readiness to take up the plentiful opportunities offered to you. Some of you excel in studies, sport, music, or dance and drama, others of you have a keen sense of social justice and ethics, and many of you take up service and voluntary work. All of us, young and old, have those moments when the innate goodness of the human person - perhaps glimpsed in the gesture of a little child or an adult’s readiness to forgive - fills us with profound joy and gratitude.
Yet such moments do not last. So again, we ponder. And we discover that not only the natural but also the social environment – the habitat we fashion for ourselves – has its scars; wounds indicating that something is amiss. Here too, in our personal lives and in our communities, we can encounter a hostility, something dangerous; a poison which threatens to corrode what is good, reshape who we are, and distort the purpose for which we have been created. Examples abound, as you yourselves know. Among the more prevalent are alcohol and drug abuse, and the exaltation of violence and sexual degradation, often presented through television and the internet as entertainment. I ask myself, could anyone standing face to face with people who actually do suffer violence and sexual exploitation “explain” that these tragedies, portrayed in virtual form, are considered merely “entertainment”?

There is also something sinister which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth. This is fueled by the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives. Relativism, by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything, has made “experience” all-important. Yet, experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead, not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair.
Dear friends, life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Your very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose (cf. Gen 1:28)! Life is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are. It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this—in truth, in goodness, and in beauty—that we find happiness and joy. Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.
Christ offers more! Indeed he offers everything! Only he who is the Truth can be the Way and hence also the Life. Thus the “way” which the Apostles brought to the ends of the earth is life in Christ. This is the life of the Church. And the entrance to this life, to the Christian way, is Baptism.

Before there was baptism, there was a singular moment of baptism that God Himself administered to the future mother of Christ. This was the moment of Mary’s conception. And because of this moment, the Son of God became flesh in a womb fitting for the King of Kings. With Mary’s Immaculate Conception comes the promise of a new heart for us all and a new, immaculate earth. Because of this grace of God, humanity was given the opportunity to cooperate with His plan and to live in accord with His natural laws. The question is, will we?

And so like so many throughout history, we must turn to Immaculate Mary and beg her intercession so that we may fulfill our baptismal promises to reject sin, embrace God, and live in hope for the coming of Christ, who alone takes away the sin of the world.

May Mary, Queen of the Universe, pray for us!

(And for a wonderful look at another intervention in human history, this one by Our Lady, watch this clip from Fr. Barron's Catholicism.)

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.