Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception of Mary is the patron of the United States. It is a mystery of the faith that continues to enrapture and confuse. The most confusing thing about the Immaculate Conception is not that God preserved Mary from Original Sin, but how Mary received sanctifying grace before Jesus (or even she) was born. It’s because we like our narratives in linear time. A causes B causes C. Space has three dimensions and time has one. But time isn’t always linear. Ask any Doctor Who fan, and they can tell you that time is really a ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey...stuff. I think the Immaculate Conception is a great example of how God is outside our understanding of time. Sometimes C can be the cause of A, which comes after B.
Time travel and other universes are common in sci-fi. There are usually two ways time travel affects a story: the kind where going back in time disrupts the narrative and creates an alternate reality and the kind where going back in time fulfills the narrative and establishes the known reality. In the latter, the characters are/were destined to go back and do something. Although choice and freewill exist, they perform an action that has seemingly already been done.
Like all people, Mary required the grace of Christ to save her from Original Sin. But her case is unique in that she was saved before she contracted Original Sin and before Christ entered the world. Mary’s Immaculate Conception removed Original Sin at the moment of her conception. It was the same grace any other person receives at baptism. And years later, she said “Yes” to God of her own free will and bore Christ. Her fiat and her Immaculate Conception are interwoven; if anything, her fiat results in the Immaculate Conception.
What makes Mary so remarkable is how unremarkable she is. As someone who was baptized as an infant, I was freed from Original Sin early on. Yet I committed sins of my own. I stubble, I pick myself up, and I try to follow God most of the time. So what if Mary was preserved from Original Sin? That alone doesn’t make her any different than a newly baptized infant. What makes her so remarkable is that she faithfully followed God and humbly said “Yes” to the greatest request a human could receive. She wasn’t predestined and forced to be sinless; she lived a life that merited it.
A few months ago, I read Flatland, a nineteenth century novella that is narrated by a man who lives in a world with just two dimensions. He travels to a world with only one dimension and struggles to explain the concept of width. He then travels to world of three dimensions and struggles to understand the concept of depth. We understand time at its lowest dimension. Time can have width and depth, but from where we stand, we can’t see it. But God works through all universes and dimensions. My God is the Ruler of the Multiverse and the Lord of Time (sorry, Doctor). What seems to contradict our scientific understanding may just be simple mechanics of a higher dimension.
Note: It really irritates me to hear the term Immaculate Conception in relation to the conception of Jesus. So, an overview of the basics.
- Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. This is the Virgin Birth. He bore no Original Sin, but that’s because He’s God, not because of an act at conception.
- Mary was conceived in the natural manner, by her parents Joachim and Anne.
- At the moment of conception, when the new life is infused with a soul, Mary simultaneously received sanctifying grace. This means she carried no Original Sin.