“I Am The Immaculate Conception”

In his classic and inspirational book The Song of Bernadette, a novel based on the true story of Mary’s apparitions and miracle at Lourdes, France, Franz Werfel wrote, “Then at last she revealed the most important happening of the day, which had not seemed so very important to her. Mother Nicolau inquired, ‘And the lady hasn’t yet told you her name?’ Bernadette immediately grew thoughtful. Then she related: ‘I didn’t ask out loud, but she felt me asking. Then her face flushed a little and she said, though I could hardly hear her. . .’ ‘Well, what? Come on! Surely you didn’t forget it?’ ‘No, I repeated it to myself on the way home to learn it by heart. She said . . .’ ‘She said? Why do you hesitate?’ ‘She said: ‘Que soy l’mmaculada councepciou.’”

Bernadette barely understood what these words meant. Who can truly comprehend the beauty of this phrase? Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?

The Meaning of “Immaculate”

Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, has many beautiful and mysterious titles. We only need to read her litany to marvel at the many names by which she is known and honored. The Immaculate Conception is a Church dogma that simply means Mary, from the moment of her conception, was preserved from original sin. She was immune from original sin by a singular grace, a privilege of almighty God in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race. We inherited original sin from Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden. Humanity continues to struggle with this legacy of original sin. Today it is evident in all things created by humankind that cause suffering, lapsed morals, evil behavior, or anything else that separates us from God’s love. Mary is innocent of all sin. Although we inherited original sin, its blemish is removed from our soul through the sacrament of baptism. And our actual sins are forgiven through the sacrament of reconciliation. However, since evil lurks within us and around us, sometimes in insidious ways, we frequently pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) We keep our eyes on Mary for inspiration in this resolve.

Our hearts are filled with wonder as we ponder Mary as the Immaculate Conception. During her life she never did anything that displeased God. From the moment of her conception, to the end of her life on earth, Mary was sinless. However, she knows, more than anyone, about the consequences of sin and urges us to love God and turn away from anything that would cause us to offend him who is all good.

Wouldn’t it be refreshingly beautiful to hear the word “immaculate” more often in today’s culture? What can we do to increase our appreciation for the attributes of whom the Franciscan priest Maximilian Kolbe, liked to call the Immaculata? He wrote, “Let us give ourselves to the Immaculata. Let her prepare us. . . . Because the Immaculata knows the secret, how to unite ourselves totally with the heart of the Lord Jesus. . . . We do not limit ourselves in love. We want to love the Lord Jesus with her heart, or rather that she would love the Lord with our heart. . . . Prayer is powerful beyond limits when we turn to the Immaculata who is queen even of God’s heart.”

Prayer can lead us to dwell on the noble beauty of Mary Immaculate. And so we pray, perhaps daily: Jesus, lover of chastity, Mary, mother most pure, and Joseph, chaste guardian of the Virgin, to you I come at this hour, begging you to plead with God for me. I earnestly wish to be pure in thought, word, and deed in imitation of your own holy purity. Obtain for me, then, a deep sense of modesty which will be reflected in my external conduct. Protect my eyes, the windows of my soul, from anything that might dim the luster of a heart that must mirror only Christ-like purity. Heart of Jesus, fount of all purity, have mercy on us. Immaculate Mary, intercede for us. Amen.

Purity is an essential and exemplary quality to meditate upon and to put into practice. John of the Cross tells us, “God desires the smallest degree of purity of conscience in you more than all the works you can perform.” Even though complete purity is something too difficult to obtain by ourselves, and too beautiful for words, we can pray for it. We can ask God to integrate it into our lives in order to grow in holiness, sanctify the human family, build up the kingdom of God on earth, and especially to remember in prayer those who engage in unchaste behavior without realizing the enormity of their sin.

John Gaynor Banks wrote, “Purity is not a long struggle against that which is impure or forbidden. Rather it is singleness of heart. Catch the great thought that from him, the Father of Lights, comes every good and perfect gift, and therefore nothing outside God is worth having or craving.” We need, and ask for, God’s supernatural help and Mary’s guidance as we strive to practice purity. This is a challenging quest. Although impurity is so common, Alphonsus Liguori warns us, “It blinds the sinner, hardens the heart, and it leads to a multitude of other sins, such as anger, hatred, blasphemy, false oaths and perjury. Demons delight in sins of impurity, because it is difficult for a person who indulges in impurity to be delivered from it.”

Purity is not static, nor is it a goal. However, we continually strive toward it. It has been said that striving for purity is the greatest challenge of being a Christian. Compare it with trying to keep our house pristinely clean. We must continue to keep it tidy week after week, or else clutter and dirt will accumulate. Is our house immaculate? Probably not, but we keep working at it. Just like keeping a clean house, keeping a clean heart, mind, and soul is something that demands ongoing care and maintenance.

As Christians, we should always be conscious of how our conduct and conversations influence the people with whom we come in contact. Purity requires self-discipline. We periodically look for, and discard, whatever is tempting or distracting in our inner and outer environments. It is difficult to hear God’s soft and unobtrusive voice in the noise of superfluous chatter and clutter within or around us. We pray for self-discipline to control our impulses and appetites. We should not immediately act on a sudden desire or urge, but rather pray and think about it from various angles before responding to it.

This can cultivate in us a greater inclination to do good and avoid evil. We avoid unhealthy curiosity and over-indulgence. When our imagination ruminates on evil or impure thoughts, we shift our focus toward that which is good and true. Being human and living in a society where sin is so common, we are drawn to nasty, dark corners in our mind. We must not dwell there. We change gears by doing something physical like straightening out that catch-all closet or junk drawer, playing tennis, pulling out weeds or hoeing the soil in our garden. There are many ways we can change our dark thoughts to higher levels.

What is better for our health? Dwelling on dehumanizing actions or benevolent deeds? Ruminating about the latest scandal or about a recent commendation? Seeing the Church as an institution or as the bride of Christ? Emphasizing the negative or the positive aspects of a person or event? The choice is ours. There are wonderful stories of people who are trying to bring good news that offsets the bad news of today.

Purity of Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8) Purity of heart keeps our focus on God. We accept the gift of faith anew each day which helps us resist temptations, and see beyond that which is marred by evil. Without denying the reality of evil, we concentrate more on what is beautiful, good, and true. Life is going to throw a lot of dirt on us, but with Mary as our guide, we shake off that dirt and adopt habits that encourage cleanliness in thinking, language, entertainment and humor. This is a lifelong challenge, but with Mary leading the way we soldier on.

Mary tells us to stay close to Jesus in order to help us choose what is good and right. With his guidance, we are less inclined to harbor negative feelings and emotions. Instead, we develop a greater ability to forgive others quickly and easily. For inspiration, we look to Mary who forgave all the people who took part in the passion and death of her son. By Jesus’ words on the cross, she was their mother too.

Isaac of Nineveh gives us a very lofty definition of purity of heart: “A person with a pure heart has a heart full of compassion for the whole of created nature. . . . It is a heart which burns for all creation, for the birds, for the beasts . . . for every creature. When he thinks about them, when he looks at them, his eyes fill with tears. So strong, so violent is his compassion . . . that his heart breaks when he sees the pain and suffering of the humblest creature. That is why he prays with tears at every moment . . . for all the enemies of truth and for all who cause him harm, that they may be protected and forgiven. He prays even for serpents in the boundless compassion that wells up in his heart after God’s likeness.”

A pure heart loves despite the cost. A pure heart adores Jesus unreservedly and promotes peace as the tranquility of good order. A pure heart accepts life’s setbacks with the right perspective. Through Mary Immaculate, we realize that, at the center of our heart lies our deepest desire: holiness.

Holiness is at the heart of our life with God. In his prayer to Mary, Father Leonce de Grandmaison sheds light on some important aspects of holiness: Holy Mary, Mother of God, preserve in me the heart of a child, pure and transparent as a spring. Obtain for me a simple heart that does not brood over sorrows, a heart generous in giving itself, quick to feel compassion, a faithful, generous heart that forgets no favor and holds no grudge. Give me a humble, gentle heart loving without asking any return, a great indomitable heart that no ingratitude can close, no indifference can weary. A heart tortured by the desire for the glory of Jesus Christ, pierced by his love, with a wound that will heal only in heaven. Amen

A Clean Mind

Although it takes effort and self-control, a clean mind is essential for Christian living. A clean mind helps us to choose right from wrong, assess current trends through the lens of Christian truth. Culturally, we have never been more disconnected from Christian truth than we are today. Focusing on Christian truth rejects the pathologies of consumerism, relativism and other trends that hinder spiritual development. We limit watching the news and using social media. In spite of much negative talk, and dehumanizing actions, a clean mind is not complacent. Its clarity and focus enhances the ability to find positive events and unexpected blessing in trials (usually found when we emerge from them). We gravitate toward that which inspires awe and continue to believe in the good within others. We think of Mary at the foot of the cross. If we quietly stand beside her, we will learn many things about love and life. We try to perceive hurtful past memories as learning experiences and life’s trials as challenges rather than setbacks. “When we surrender to discouragement or despair, it is usually because we are thinking too much of the past or the future.” (Therese of Lisieux)

Gradually, we discover that purity is necessary for love. As our capacity for love expands, our understanding of purity deepens. John Climacus tellls us, “Purity means that we put on the likeness of God, as much as is humanly possible.” Purity of heart and mind draws out the best from us as Jesus’ teachings continue to form us as Christians. In our journey toward purity of heart and mind, we must find quiet times to reflect on what Jesus said and then to live it. Jesus taught us to use our freedom the best we can. Freedom can be used to achieve great good or appalling evil. Technological and scientific progress must be matched with sound moral and ethical formation. Purity of heart and mind keeps our devotion to Mary and allegiance to Jesus ever prominent in our heart and mind.

Holy Mary, Mother of God

Throughout the long pages of history, Christians have revered the mother of Jesus. No one has honored her more than God, who chose her to be the mother of his son. Teresa of Avila tells us to “imitate Mary and consider how great she must be.” Mary is, after Jesus, the embodiment of everything that is pure, good, beautiful and holy in creation. Mary is the best example of a noble woman. We strive to stand by her and know she stands by us. She supports her children with loving care as we travel the path her son has designed for us. Mary receives grace from her son and pours it out on us. The more we dwell on Mary’s life, the more fascinating she becomes. Mary always and forever directs us to her son Jesus, who shows us the supreme meaning of love. Mary directs us toward harmony and peace. She reminds us of the importance of a pure heart and a clean mind by taking us beyond our own strength and infusing in us the desires of great love. With her, we are drawn into the obscurity of faith where mystery is customary and life is transformed. And to her, we chant her minor litany:

Ladder by which we climb to the sublime,

Star by whose bright light we brave the night,

Mirror in which we see eternity,

Key that will unlock the house on the rock,

Tower by which we stand, strong in the strange land,

Rose in whose rustling stirred the eternal word,

Lady of quietness,

Queen of mysteries,

Remember us.

 

 

Notes

The Lourdes Center is a ministry of the USA Province of the Society of Mary, a religious order of five branches founded to live the spirit of Mary in the Church. In 1950 Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, and Bishop Pierre-Marie Theas of Tarbes/Lourdes, gave the Society of Mary in Boston authorization to distribute Lourdes Water in North America, sponsor pilgrimages to Lourdes and spread the message of Lourdes through a newsletter (Echoes from Lourdes). Anyone desiring information about any of these may contact the Center at the address below:

The Lourdes Center

698 Beacon Street, P.O. Box 15575

Boston, MA 02215-2594

(617) 536-2761

www.lourdescenter.org

Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS About Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS

Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS, OTR, is a discalced Carmelite, secular, and a registered occupational therapist. She is the author of the books: From Ash to Fire: A Contemporary Journey through the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila, Carmel Land of the Soul: Living Contemplatively in Today’s World, Mystics in the Making: Lay Women in Today's Church, and Living Through Cancer, A Practical Guide to Cancer Related Concerns. Her latest book is Everyday Holiness: A Guide to Living Here and Getting to Eternity. You can find her reflections online at contemplativechristianityorg.wordpress.com.

Comments

  1. Avatar Joyce Parkhurst says:

    A beautifully written article with a great deal of wisdom. There is much there to ponder.

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