Bishop O’Connell reflects on Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Bishop O’Connell reflects on Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

In his reflection for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2021, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., shares “Nothing is impossible with God”


Never had our world heard better news than that spoken by the Angel Gabriel to an innocent Jewish maiden, barely a teenager, in today’s Gospel from St. Luke.  Centuries of longing of the Chosen People of God came to an end as the angel announced to Mary, “Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you.”  

That greeting recognized that the Virgin Mary, “blessed among all women,” was truly and uniquely “full of grace,” that no sin could exist in her – ever – from the very first moment of her own conception, which we call her “Immaculate Conception.” And so, she alone was worthy to welcome the angel’s words, “the Lord is with you.”

That is how the Church has come to understand the Incarnation, the “Word become flesh and dwelling among us.” She who was always without the blemish of original sin, introduced to us in today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis, the story of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden; she who was always without the fault of Adam and Eve was destined to be the Immaculate Mother of God.  “You will conceive in your womb a son to be called Jesus, who will be the great Son of God!”

Visiting with her cousin Elizabeth who, now in her advanced age, was also miraculously with child leaping in her womb as the Angel spoke, the young girl Mary wondered what was going on: “How can this be since I have no relations with a man?” And the Angel explained to her the power of God and the action of the Holy Spirit within her: “Nothing is impossible with God.”  

That is the sentence, the statement we must embrace in faith, the way Mary did:  “Let it be done to me as you say.”

The Immaculate Conception of Mary in her own mother’s womb was the pathway which led to the sinless conception of her own Son, Jesus. Being first “graced” by God before her birth, she would give birth to the source and fulfillment of all “grace,” the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High, the Promised Messiah and Savior of the World, the “Word made Flesh who would dwell among us.” There is no better news that could be told. And, yet, today’s Gospel story is only the beginning, the first and best evidence that “nothing is impossible with God.”

On so many levels, the grace-filled story that defines us as Christians is inconceivable, impossible for the human mind alone to grasp.  And yet, the One who was inconceivably conceived in the Virgin Mary’s immaculate womb makes all things possible, even things we consider impossible. Grace alone does this; grace alone makes faith in the impossible, possible, and faith alone takes our sinful humanity and sees in our flesh the redemption and mercy of God in Christ.  

“In him,” the Letter to the Ephesians reminds us, we “were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish in his sight.” That is what grace “accomplishes in us.”  That is what faith enables us to believe. That is how and why Mary said “yes” to the Angel Gabriel’s good news of God’s incarnate mercy to the world. In this sense, we can say that Mary is, as we pray so often, the Mother of Mercy.

December 8, in this Holy Season of Advent, on this Solemn Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Catholics throughout the world experience, in the Holy Father’s words several years ago, the opportunity for “a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God … a living experience of the closeness of the Father whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it, ever more effective (Letter of Pope Francis, 1 September 2015).”

On this Solemn Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, look deeply into your hearts and souls and remember what grace and faith and God’s mercy tell us, “nothing is impossible with God:” not forgiveness of the darkest sin, not healing of the deepest hurt, not separation from those furthest away or who should be closest to us, not even the troubles that strangle our world, our communities, our families or ourselves. “Nothing is impossible with God.”  

With faith like that of the Immaculate Virgin, pray to God our Loving Father for the grace and gift of what he, alone, makes possible for us, and ask him “let it be done to me as you say.”

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