Many Christian communities around the world annually observe the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. It is designated a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics. In 1854 Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception as an infallible dogma of the Church. This feast can mistakenly be thought to refer to the miraculous conception of Jesus in the Virgin Mary’s womb. What we really celebrate is the miraculous conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. From the moment of Mary’s conception, she was “full of grace” and preserved from all stain of sin. From the moment of her conception, Mary was chosen and destined to be the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God.
I always look forward to any day that celebrates Mary. In excited anticipation of this upcoming feast day, I have been pondering not ‘WHAT’ is the Immaculate Conception, but ‘WHO’ is the Immaculate Conception. Until now, I haven’t given time to imaginative prayer and reflection on Mary’s life from the moment of her conception to her young pre-teen years. Her Annunciation has always been the core meaning of my life.
As I’ve been spending time praying and reflecting in preparation for December 8, some of what I have brought to my imaginative prayer are the following reflections:
—Anne and Joachim were married about 20 years and were considered barren by their family and friends. They were deeply in love and every month they came together intimately with the hope of conceiving a child. Every month their hearts were filled with disappointment and sadness in not being able to conceive. This reality was becoming more and more difficult to bear, and they began to question God about why they couldn’t conceive.
—Anne and Joachim were in their 30s (considered elderly) and in their desperation, promised if they were blessed with a child they would consecrate their child to serve God. They were begging God for a miracle to conceive as they were nearing the end of their childbearing years. Their love was sustaining them through their grief.
—Their prayer was heard and Mary, “full of grace”, was conceived in the womb of Anne. She and Joachim were ecstatic with joy. When Anne began to nurse Mary, there was an immediate bond between mother and daughter. Anne loved the warmth of Mary’s tiny body snuggled against her breast. How could she know that this beautiful child, created through the love between Joachim and her, was chosen to be the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God. For now, both parents beheld their infant daughter in awe, reverence and gratitude.
—Mary was her parents’ delight. They loved her very much and she was a happy child. Anne watched Mary’s every move with reverent tenderness and cherished the times when Mary sat in her lap, intent on learning to pray.
—Anne and Joachim lived the first 3 years of Mary’s life with the intensity of joy, love, thanksgiving and peace. As they were nearing the end of Mary’s third year, they were growing in sadness realizing that soon it would be time to take Mary to the Temple and leave her in the care of others. They were preparing to fulfill their promise to God made when they were praying to conceive their beloved child. Anne led Mary to the Temple steps, hugged and kissed her good-bye and watched as Mary skipped up the steps and entered into the inner sanctuary. It was not in God’s plan that Anne and Joachim would raise their child as was needed. How deeply they grieved. When they returned home, they felt the emptiness of Mary’s absence. While she was gone they found comfort in their blessed memories of her conception, birth, and 3 years of her childhood. They watched, waited and prayed for the day of her return.
What God did for Mary in an instant at the moment of her conception is what God wants to do in us over time. Mary – “full of grace” – was a spotless Tabernacle to house the presence of the Holy Son of God. During Advent, as we celebrate this feast, we are invited to ask ourselves: am I ready to make my heart a tabernacle to house the presence of Jesus?