Dear Sacred Heart of Jesus Family,
May the blessings of this Sacred Season be with you, your family, and loved ones! As we journey during this second week of Advent, the Church in the Liturgy presents the person of Our Lady. On Friday we celebrated the Immaculate Conception, and this week we honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. These two celebrations are celebrations of God’s grace, and can be rich food for thought on our journey with the Holy Family to Bethlehem.
In 1854, Pope Saint Pius the Ninth (IX) solemnly proclaimed the Dogma that God protected our Blessed Mother from suffering the effects of Original Sin, in anticipation of the Merits of Jesus on the Cross. This is a complex truth to unpack, so I ask you to bare with me as I attempt to outline this. Our Lady can seem to be someone we cannot relate to, because we teach that she had no sin: no effects of Original Sin, and no actual sin. How can we relate to a human being who is perfect? Isn’t she elitist? No, quite the contrary. Our Lady is full of tender compassion for us because her heart is only full of love, and no fear or negative side effects from the wounds of personal sin can limit her care for us.
For over twelve hundred years the Church had celebrated the liturgical commemoration of Our Lady’s special conception, beginning around the sixth century. Devotion to Our Lady in the catacombs of Rome, and in the life of the Church in north Africa are noted from the first and second century of Christianity. In the mid nineteenth century, after consultation with the Church throughout the world, great prayer and study, the Holy Father discerned it was an opportune moment to clarify the Church’s teachings on the truths concerning the grace of God in Our Lady’s life. From the beginnings of Catholicism, the Church had grown in her understanding that Our Lady was formed by God to give Jesus all of His human nature, His DNA, as St. Joseph was the foster father, and not Our Lord’s biological father. Our Heavenly Father was the Father of Jesus, and the Blessed Mother gave His humanity from her body. Hence, she was prepared by God to be spared the effects and wounds of sin.
Just as we are saved outside of time (2000 years after Calvary) by the grace of Baptism—though Jesus knew us on the Cross—so too, Our Lady was spared from sin’s effects (outside of space and time) by the saving Grace of Jesus. Her Immaculate Conception in the womb of Saint Anne was a normal act of human conception, but specially transformed by God’s grace so that she could develop a perfect humanity that could be shared with Jesus in His Incarnation. This is very confusing and hard to grasp. Theologians have struggled for millennia to understand how grace transformed Our Lady. In a time of clarity after hundreds of years of reflection, the Pope understood in 1854 the moment had come, and the time was opportune to clarify Church teaching concerning Our Lady and God’s grace. Heaven seemed to agree. Four years later in 1858, Our Lady appeared to an illiterate child, suffering from asthma, in the town dump of Lourdes, France. There She identified Herself to St. Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The shrine has become a place of healing.
Nearly 330 years earlier, on the liturgical feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Mother appeared to Saint Juan Diego, a Christian Convert, and asked him to be her messenger to the Bishop of Mexico City, and the people of Mexico. With Her miraculous image on the Tilma cloak of Juan Diego and miraculous growth of roses in winter, the Church recognized Our Lady’s apparitions in Mexico as authentic. The fruits were tremendous. Historically, the missionaries experienced an extended period of difficulty while attempting to evangelize the people of Mexico to little avail. Our Lady turned the situation around. In short time, over nine million people converted to Christ and were baptized after our Heavenly Mother appeared.
These two celebrations of Our Lady highlight the joy and power of Advent. In this season of expectation we look forward to Christmas but also to the end of time. Some day we will be called to God. This special time of our lives on earth is an invitation by God to enter into a loving relationship with God through the power of His saving grace. May Our Lady encourage us to say yes to God’s invitation and receive His Love. The same grace which transformed Her will transform us. She is more Mother than Queen. God cannot force us to receive His Love, but He will pursue us to our final breath on earth. May Advent remind us of how much He loves us—all He asks is our yes.
In Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart,
Fr. Bjorn Lundberg,