I know that the prayers of today’s Solemnity are theologically correct about stains and blemishes and cleansing souls from sin, but that kind of language really doesn’t help me enter into this great feast. Nor does it help me appreciate the immense gift God gave to this daughter of Adam and Eve. I note that the Eastern Churches do not celebrate a comparable feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, for all their deep devotion to the Mother of God, the God-Bearer. The eastern Christian mind does not work in the same way as the Latin western mind. Consider, for example, our different understandings of the Trinity in the eastern and western Churches.
One way of characterizing this difference is the eastern preference to think from the context of personal relationships while, in the west, we have emphasized the context of being. For the western mind a stain on the soul can be a valid comprehension of the situation. For eastern minds, it is a question of a broken relationship that needs restoration. And that is also the language of the Book of Genesis when we read the description of the original sin of our first parents: they derailed their relationship with their Creator-Father. They were banished from his sight though their Creator first promised them to one day restore his relationship to them.
Every child born from Adam and Eve and since them carries the curse which God placed on them: we come into existence alienated from our Creator. All but one, that is. The reason that there is one who was born of true communion with her Creator is that she was chosen by God for a unique mission. Because God chose her to bring his divine Son into the created world as her own son, he first preserved her from that broken relationship. God kept Mary one with himself. There was never a moment when Mary was separated from her Creator–the first person since the sin of Adam.
And this time, a child of God did not fail his trust in her as our first parents had. Mary restored the relationship of all creation to God when she gave her consent to his will and for that we honor Mary–our sister who made possible our return to our Creator-Father.
It could have gone very differently, just as it had for Adam and Eve. Mary was entirely free to choose God or turn away from him–as free as Adam and Eve had been. They made their choice and “lost”; Mary made her choice and “won”. And not just for herself but for all creation, winning the gratitude of the human family, helpless in its alienation.
What if, for example, George Washington had decided to remain president of the new Republic of the United States for life, instead of retiring after two terms? What if Abraham Lincoln had chosen to accept the split of that Union into two separate and sovereign nations? What if Nelson Mandela has chosen to use his powers as the elected president of South Africa to avenge himself on those who had imprisoned him rather than aiming at reconciliation and unity of his country? What if you and I had refused God’s call to enter the monastery? All of us have been created free to choose, a God-given freedom. My Creator wants my choice to be a free one, not a forced one.
None of our choices would have the significance of the choice made by the maiden of Nazareth. Our choices affect mainly our personal histories; hers affected the entire human race, even all of creation. She only knew that this was what her Creator wanted of her and that was sufficient. She said, “Yes”.
Because God knew that she would consent, he filled her full of grace, uniting her to himself when he created her. That’s where it gets interesting: God’s prevenient grace. That prevenient grace, however, did not render Mary incapable of choosing freely what God asked of her. In fact, she was all the more free to choose than anyone since Adam and Eve because of her inner relationship with God. Mary lived full of grace. The rest of us live handicapped. But due to her choice we can now be restored to that relationship with God which he ever intends for us. Her Son achieved this for us by restoring in his divine person our relationship with god through his own human nature.
It was Mary who allowed God to do this for us when she consented to him. From this consent that God knew she would give, her Creator fully united her to himself–that relationship we had lost and continue to lose. Now we may possess it again. The Almighty has done great things for me; holy is his name!