Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I have to say, the biggest struggles I’ve had with the Catholic faith are doctrines about Mary, especially the Immaculate Conception. I couldn’t see how the phrase “full of grace” accounted for the theory of her being conceived without Original Sin, of being ever-virgin, and of being assumed into heaven. (Though I did understand that if I believed the first part, the other two would reasonably follow.) I liked the idea of Mary being a new Eve, but I just didn’t believe it, or see the importance of it. But that still left me with a problem, because the Immaculate Conception seemed to be a really big deal, as in, the only two times the Pope has spoken infallibly has been about Mary’s conception and assumption. Everything else I was learning seemed to make so much sense, but this whole Mary thing wasn’t jiving. I knew Mary was always supposed to point to Christ, so I figured, if worrying about her just got me all frustrated, it was better to just ignore her and pray to Christ on my own. I wasn’t going to let Marian doctrine get in the way of everything else I loved about the Church.
As a Protestant, I never gave much thought about Mary. She only came up during Advent each year; the virgin birth, the journey to Bethlehem, wrapping Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. But Catholics focus on Mary before all that: her Immaculate Conception and her “fiat.” She had the free will to say no to God, but she said yes, even though that meant a serious burden and probably lots of rumors about her. Her yes meant everything for humanity. But, if she was already free of Original Sin, wasn’t it easier for her to say yes? Or if God had freed her from Original Sin knowing she would say yes in the future, what free will was there?
Eve was free of Original Sin. She had the free will to stay that way and obey God or not. She chose not. Mary chose to say yes with all the free will Eve used to say no. God freed Mary of Original Sin to give her that choice. And we should all be grateful that she made the right decision.
One day at work not too long ago (I wasn’t even thinking on it), it just clicked. I believed in the Immaculate Conception, which for me also meant belief in her sinlessness, her perpetual virginity, and her assumption into heaven. An idea that seemed so out there to me suddenly felt familiar. I still feel uncomfortable with the amount of focus on it, and I still don’t like saying strings of Hail Marys when I could just be praying to Jesus directly. But now, it is part of my faith. And it’s probably good that there is part of my faith I know I need to work on. If I’m comfortable, I’m not doing it right.
[The top is a picture of Eve and Mary reconciling. I had saved it on my computer awhile back and now can’t remember where I got it. But I really, really like it. The bottom picture is a picture that is hung in the classroom where I have RCIA. I always get distracted and just stare at it during class. I know it’s a romanticized, northern European version of Mary and Jesus (that is not a Jewish nose or Middle Eastern skin tone), but I think it’s beautiful.]