Monday, December 8, 2008

The Conception of the B.V.M.


December 8, 2008

Luke. 1. 26

In the Anglo-Catholic tradition, today is the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M. For me personally—it’s my birthday.

I have always considered myself fortunate to celebrate my birthday on such a beautiful feast day of Our Lady. As I look back over my spiritual life—all the way back to when I was thirteen and first called to the Priesthood on the Feast of Visitation of the B.V.M.—I realize that Mary has been present with me every step of the way. There she was at every turn, at every trip-up, at every long stretch. Her presence in my life was, in my spiritual eye, always a purely blue, purely gentle and warm and maternal presence there on the fringes.

Throughout the hard times, throughout the set-backs and the spiritual stumblings, I more often than not sought refuge in that presence and took great consolation in it. And I also found great consolation in the fact that one did not have to be a Roman Catholic to have such a deep and abiding devotion to her.

As for the particulars of this feast—this feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary—I have always been ambivalent. I have tried to avoid getting into discussions about whether she was conceived without sin or not, whether she remained a virgin or not. Ultimately, talk of that sort seems so trashy and uncouth. But I have recently cherished something Beverly Donofrio (author of Riding in the Car with Boys) wrote in her wonderful memoir, Looking For Mary: Or, the Blessed Mother and Me. Donofrio writes:

Yes. The Church needed Mary to be a virgin…Her womb may have been a walled garden, but it was graced with fertile soil where something new and unexpected could grow; her abiding virginity was a sign that even the impossible is possible with God.

That’s what makes this feast day so wonderful for me. Maybe she wasn’t conceived without sin. Maybe she didn’t remain a virgin. Maybe even there was no virgin birth. But, I always love the “what if.” These issues of Mary’s virginity are chock-full of “what ifs.” What if she was all of those things? If she was—as she would be the first and quickest to remind us—it wasn’t Mary who did it. If she was all of those things, it was God who did it. It was God who made these wonderful things happen in her. And if God did it, then truly “the impossible is possible with God.” Isn’t that what we all believe anyway? Isn’t that what we all cling to and hope in? Isn’t that what makes our faith in God true faith?

Of course, one of my deepest devotions is to Our Lady of Walsingham. Whenever I look at her image, I do so with a joy and knowledge that this wonderful presence of Mary is a gentle and beautiful reminder that, truly, the impossible is possible with God.

There is a beautiful litany included in the Manual pilgrims to the shrine at Walsingham use. In that Litany, there is a beautiful prayer I return to again and again. I return to it again on this beautiful Feast day of Our Lady’s Conception—and my birthday.

“O Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of life,
as you overshadowed Mary that she might be the Mother of Jesus our Savior
so work silently in my heart,
to form within me the fullness of his redeemed and redeeming humanity.
Give me his loving heart,
to burn with love for God and love for my neighbour;
give me a share of his joy and sorrow.
his weakness and his strength,
his labour for the world’s salvation.
May Mary, blessed among women,
Mother of our Saviour,
pray for me,
that Christ may be formed in me,
that I may live in union of heart and will
with Jesus Christ, her Son, our Lord and Saviour.



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