BEFORE THE CROSS | Mary’s cooperation with God’s plan is our goal

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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"Without God's Son, nothing could exist; without Mary's Son, nothing could be redeemed."

These are powerful words from St. Anselm. Mary isn't God! But she had a unique role in cooperating with God to bring about our salvation. We celebrate the beginning of that role — her Immaculate Conception — this week.

The Church's teaching on the Immaculate Conception — which was definitively declared by Pope Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1854 — holds that Mary, by the merits of Christ, was preserved from all stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. Without taking away her free will, this grace prepared her for her role as the mother of God — another example of the fact that every Church teaching about Mary ultimately traces itself to Jesus.

You might think: Nice for her, but what's that got to do with us?

We were burdened with original sin from the moment of conception. And even if baptism wiped that away, we've piled our personal sins on top of it since then. So, while we're happy to celebrate Mary, we aren't quite sure how it matters for us.

A beautiful prayer from the feast day responds to this question and line of thought. It begins by describing Mary's unique status: "Mary had a faith that your spirit prepared and a love that never knew sin." But then it pivots to us: "Trace in our actions the lines of her love, in our hearts the readiness of her faith."

Is Mary unique? Yes. But she's also a pattern. What was given to her is held out as a goal for us. She cooperated fully with God from the beginning of her life; we hope to get there by the end of ours.

Mary wants to help us reach that goal, and she's in a position to do so through her intercession. We can ask her to obtain these three things for us through her prayers:

1) To receive the Word of God into our souls, as she received Him into her body.

2) To nurture the Word of God and allow Him to grow in our hearts, as she nurtured Him and allowed Him to grow in her womb.

3) Not only to receive and nurture the Word of God within ourselves, but also to bring Him into the world through our words and actions, as she brought Him into the world on Christmas day, so that others also could know Him.

I know from experience that Mary answers these prayers! Because she experienced these things in her life she knows how to pray for them in ours. And she wants nothing more than for her Son to grow in us, and for us to grow in her Son.

Mary was immaculately conceived so that she could nurture the body of Christ in her womb 2,000 years ago. She continues to nurture His mystical body — the Church — through her intercession today.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. 

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