REAL LIFE CONNECTION to the IMMACULATE CONCEPTION The Immaculate Conception and Virtue of Humility

God loves irony. Our salvation history is wrapped up in so much of it. The angel Lucifer fell in pride, but Mary triumphed in humility. We see the same in the juxtaposition of the great nation of France falling into anti-God revolution, and the humble French shepherdess, Bernadette, rising to the heights of sainthood.

It could be easy to assume that because Bernadette was “simple” that she would automatically be “humble” - which wouldn’t be true. If we turn on a TV we could find some “simple” people displaying zero humility to prove this point.

Humility is the “little” virtue with the biggest impact. It is the antidote to all sin. This is because the inverse of humility is pride, the vice from which all sin originates. Pride was the catalyst to the Fall of mankind, which bore the bad fruit of original sin.

Most of us are familiar with original sin, but under the circumstances of discussing the Immaculate Conception, it bears rehashing!

The Catechism tells us: “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.” (CCC 390) The devil ultimately instigated original sin. He himself rebelled against God, as did one third of the angels, who now serve him as demons.

The devil’s angelic name was Lucifer. The angels were created spirits, but had superior intellect to humans, in that they were capable of infused knowledge. In other words, angels do not have to use reason to decide right from wrong, they know it instantly. However, tradition holds that God revealed salvation history - the plan for the Incarnation - when God the Son would take on human flesh, and be born of a woman. Lucifer found this abhorrent because he couldn’t fathom God becoming man. He thought he knew better and wanted to be- come God. At this, a great battle broke out in heaven and St. Michael the Archangel, the prince of our Church, cast Lucifer from heaven along with the other bad angels, and thundered the following question at his fallen adversary, “Who is like God?!” Answer: No one.

This was the initial fall, which led to the fall of our first parents. The following from Genesis 3:1-13 outlines what happened when the devil came to Eve, and she took the bait. This serves as the blueprint for what happens when we are tempted and fall into sin as well.

Step One: Question God’s authority

“Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”

Step Two: Directly challenge God’s authority But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know* good and evil.”

Step Three: Reject God’s Authority on the grounds that you know more than he does

The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom.

Step Four: Sin, and influence others to sin So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Step Five: Shame Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Step Six: Broken relationship with God and others When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

Step Seven: Blame, instead of personal accountability and contrition The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat? The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.”

We see the fruits of pride in these steps. St. Augustine tells us, “There never can have been, and never can be, and there never shall be any sin without pride.”

Eve sinned out of pride and ruptured union with God for her and humanity. Mary, responded out of humility, and played an instrumental role in reuniting God and mankind, by virtue of being the mother of the Redeemer.

The early Church fathers called Mary the “New Eve.” Just as Eve was in a sinless state when she reacted in pride to the serpent and conceived death, Mary was in a sinless state when she reacted in humility to the angel and conceived life.

This is the basis of the Immaculate Conception that was declared dogma by Pius IX in 1854:

“We declare, pronounce and define that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her Conception was preserved Immaculate from all stain of original sin, by the singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, and that this doctrine was revealed by God, and therefore must be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

He continued:

“The greatness of this privilege will also confute those who deny that human nature was corrupted by the first sin and who amplify the powers of human reason in order to deny or to diminish the benefits of revelation. May the Virgin Mary, who confounds and destroys all heresies, uproot and destroy all the most pernicious errors of rationalism which, in these unhappy times, have so afflicted and tormented not only human society but also the Church itself.”

It is clear from the above that Mary was not sinless by her own power but by God’s power. It was as if she was “pre-baptized” by the merits of Christ in order to make her a worthy dwelling place for the Savior of the World. This dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception shows not only the power of God, but affirms the truth that there is “original sin” and because of it, all of humanity needs to be redeemed by Christ.

The French writer Georges Bernados made a profound observation to consider: ”For men it is certainly more grave, or at least much more dangerous, to deny original sin than to deny God.” This is because to deny original sin is to reject that man is fallen from his first noble state. If this is believed, then it follows that the very existence of sin is denied; right and wrong are neutered; there is no need for grace. This leads to the rejection of our need for a Redeemer, and ultimately denies the existence of God, and his plan for salvation.

It is amazing how much of our faith is tied up in the Immaculate Conception. It has always been believed by the Church but it could not be an accident that God had it affirmed via dogmatic proclamation at a time when his very existence had been so under attack. It is also no accident that a dogma which encapsulates the essence of our faith would be accompanied by so much healing and grace in the miracles of Lourdes.

The miracles people have experienced at Lourdes are countless and defy medical ex- planation. The spring itself is a miracle. Since the time it appeared, it has produced 27,000 gallons of water a day, even in times of drought. The water never becomes contaminated and can be preserved for years. If you visit the grotto at Lourdes, you will see it littered with the crutches and wheel chairs of people who left them behind after being healed on the spot.

All this because a young women was willing to look ridiculous and dig deeper when Our Lady asked it of her!

This story and the miracles that flow from it serve as a beautiful revelation about the God we serve. He heals. He redeems. He restores.

Praise God for all the blessings we have to celebrate in our Catholic faith!

REFLECTION “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” -Saint Teresa of Avila

In what way can I practice greater humility this week?