I preached two homilies on this solemnity, one of which was for the schoolchildren, as you will deduce. Both homilies follow. (Feel free to give any comments, including comparisons.)
You have seen your moms or aunts, or teachers, when they are going to have a baby. You know what happens—their stomachs get big, don’t they? When the baby is ready to come—mom is “full”!
One way to think about what “Full of Grace” means is that Mary, in becoming a mother, was going to be full of Jesus.
This happened because the Holy Spirit came over Mary. Jesus did not have a human father—his father is God, in heaven. And the Spirit brought this about in Mary.
Stop and think: what would it be like to be full of Jesus?
Watch as I dip this cup in this water: Is it full [2/3rds full]? How about now [3/4ths-7/8th full]? [Add water by hand until its flowing over.] Now it’s full!
See: it’s brimming over; no room for anything else! That’s what “full” means.
When the angel called Mary “Full of Grace”—did you notice he didn’t use her name? It was as if “Full of Grace” was her name! He was saying, there was no room in Mary for anything but grace. Thus, Mary—from the very first moment God created her inside her mother, St. Anne—was without any sin—“full of grace.”
That’s what “Immaculate Conception” refers to when Mary was conceived, in her mother. Mary was conceived on December 8; nine months later was her birthday, September 8. “Immaculate” means totally clean—without any stain.
God did that. We might wonder why. Well, the readings we heard explain why: Adam and Eve—as we heard—said “No!” to God. That opened the world to sin and sorrow. Mary was chosen to be the one who would say “yes” to God, untying the knot of disobedience Adam and Eve created. Did you notice? Adam and Eve sinned—then when God came and asked about it, they pointed the finger at someone else: “He did it” “She did it.” Sound familiar? Isn’t that what we say when we get caught?
What does Mary say? She says, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”
A handmaid is a servant, a slave. Mary is saying, I freely turn my whole life over to God. Whatever he wants, whatever he says, I will do.
What would our world be like if everyone were that way? What would your day at school be like, if every teacher, every student, said, I want to be God’s instrument, God’s slave? Would we hurt each other with our words, or our fists? Would we have shows on TV that are trashy? Would we watch such shows? Would prayer and knowing God be something we put last on our list of things to do?
If our world were like that, there would be no war; there would be no immigrants treated badly; poor nations would be lifted up and treated equally. How different our world would be—and will be—when people imitate Mary, and say, ”I belong totally to God—I will do whatever he wants.”
Remember: that “yes” meant that Jesus would come into the world through Mary.
Because of that, we were able to know Jesus! And when you and I imitate Mary—and say “yes”—just as Mary became full of Jesus, so will we!
Our yeses help our world become more and more “full” of Jesus. And Mary showed us how.
No wonder Gabriel said: “Hail, Mary!
No wonder God the Father said: “Hail, Mary!”
No wonder Jesus the Son said: “Hail, Mary!”
No wonder the Holy Spirit said: “Hail Mary!”
No wonder we say: “Hail Mary!”
Have you ever been up very early and watched for dawn to come?
You stare at the dark sky, waiting for light. After a long wait, it does get lighter.
As dawn nears, the sky gradually fills with a spreading light. That’s when you realize how dark it was, and just how dazzling the light really is. All this before the sun itself crosses the horizon.
Which calls attention to how much light the sun casts even before its rising. Then the sun itself comes, and Boom! your eyes are blinded by the brilliance.
So with the sun in the sky, so with the Son of God.
Long before Christ dawned on the world, his light reached way ahead to fill the life of Mary. That’s what we celebrate today: her Immaculate Conception.
Now, we get confused about this. Many think we celebrate Jesus’ conception today. No, it is Mary’s conception we celebrate. "Immaculate" refers to what God did for Mary, at that first instant, inside St. Anne, to preserve her free of any stain of sin.
Some wonder about the “how” of this; others about the “why” of this dogma.
Remember what I said about sunlight, how it goes out ahead of the sun’s actual rising? It’s the same with the Light of the Son of God. The light of Jesus’s “dawn” reached so far ahead, all the way to the beginning of Mary’s life, casting out all darkness, even from the first instant of her life.
Mary didn’t just look at the Sun; she was filled with the Son.
Can you imagine it? Can you imagine it? Just with the sun in the sky: if, somehow, we were “filled” with it’s light, what shadow could remain? How much more to be filled with Christ? The Son of God, more dazzling than all galaxies, dawned into the world through Mary!
Mary brought that Light to us—will we let him in?
Those places inside us we keep sealed off, where we, not God, have the final say? Those drawers where we keep an addiction; those corners where we nurse a grudge; will we let in his healing Light?
There is no shame so dark his Light cannot cast out; no sin so foul his Light cannot cleanse; no hardness his Love cannot melt; no coldness his Light cannot warm.
Mary is just the beginning. She is the New Eve, the mother of a New Creation. And we are her children.
When all the world lay in darkness, Mary stood waiting for the Light. When it came, Mary said “Yes.” No wonder God said, through Gabriel: “Hail, Mary!”