Incarnation−God becoming a human being like us is the most basic faith concept that Christianity is build upon. It has been the most debated dogma, a matter of faith that Christian scholars argued about from the beginning of the Church. The question has been, ‘how can the almighty God become human?’ In the first few centuries of Christian faith theologians together with temporal rulers staged bitter quarrels, held argumentative synods and even had wars to settle this issue. It was rightly termed “Christological Controversy”; indeed it was a crisis, which only settled in the fifth century.
But every now and then the controversy pops up in subtle and hidden way. It is difficult for our very limited human nature to come in terms with ‘Word that Became Flesh’. The idea that God chose to enter the world as a helpless baby, born to a young girl and her carpenter husband in a colonized and suppressed area of the Roman Empire goes against everything we know and believe about what makes a person important.
It is needless to talk about the important role mothers play in the life of individual people. Often mothers accompany their children until they are settled in life as mature adults. It is true also in the life of Jesus. He enjoyed the maternal care of his mother Mary from the moment of conception until his eventual death on the cross. In the case of choosing Mary as the Mother of His son Jesus, he used every possibility His disposal. This plan was conceived even at the beginning of creation when God planned to send his son to redeemed the world that was tainted by the disobedience of the first man and first woman–Adam and Eve.
God entrusted Himself to a mother from His conception to His eventual death on the cross. The story of incarnation is part of creation of the world and the eventual redemption of the world. In this plan of God, a woman who gave Him life and who nurtured, shaped and reared Him into young manhood. In this way Mary has a special place in the redemption of the world, of which some Fathers of the Church called her, Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocatrix. While not forgetting the role played Joseph, her spouse, Mary plays an unique role in the life of Jesus, God’s redemptive plan and later in the life of the Church.
We can confidently say that Mary’s vocation began at the moment of her own birth to Joachim and Anne (as we traditionally name her parents), offering of herself to God in her girlhood at the temple (a long standing pious belief by the church), her elective vocation given to her by God through the event of annunciation by angel Gabriel, her accompaniment and complimentary role during the redemptive actions of Jesus in Galilee and later under the cross as a sorrowful mother. We cannot also forget the role she played in keeping the apostles united around her after the death and resurrection of her son and her prayerful presence at Pentecost when the Church was born.
The event of Announciation throws enough light on the virtues, spirituality and the personality of Blessed Virgin Mary. She is not, as some traditions try to treat her, a mindless incubator that brought forth Jesus the Son of God to the world. God who respects the freedom of human beings he created, sought the consent of the Mary to be the Mother of God−to conceive the Eternal Son of the Father in her womb. She had her own doubts and reservations which she freely put forth. But through her obedience and virtues she stoops down to the will of God. Thus she becomes an integral part of the redemptive story that began from Genesis and ends in Revelation. Everything that is wholly human about Our Lord comes from and through her. She gave us her Son, first at His birth and then later at Calvary; and He in turn, gave us His mother.
It is sensible to think that God’s plan that began in Genesis was enacted in the immaculate conception of Mary. She is a shining star in the darkness of our human nature and human weakness. God saw to it that the mother of his Son, the Redeemer is to be born of a woman who is immaculate−untouched by sin. But we also should remember that Mary, Our Mother, began the way we all did, as a single cell made in the image and likeness of God, but was freed from all sin. Christ’s humanity is her humanity. Her dignity is our dignity. She is our mother for the ages.
Now what is the truth of Immaculate Conception teach us for our ordinary lives? Those who live in God’s friendship will surely meet him in heaven freed from all sin and stain of sin. That is what immaculate means, the Latin adjective immaculatus meaning “stainless”. The dogma inviting us to be faithful to God and keep ourselves from the stain of sin as Mary herself did. Even in this life, God purifies us and trains us in holiness and, if we die in his friendship but imperfectly purified, he will purify us in purgatory and render us immaculate.
By giving Mary this grace from the first moment of her conception, God showed us an image of our own destiny. He shows us that this is possible for humans by his grace. The Marian Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical puts it in aptly “In contemplating this mystery in a Marian perspective, we can say that Mary, at the side of her Son, is the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe. It is to her as Mother and Model that the Church must look in order to understand in its completeness the meaning of her own mission.” (Redemptoris Mater, n. 37).
Let Mary, Immaculately conceived teach us, inspire us and guide us in the virtues of freedom, obedience to God and perseverance in grace. “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”