This is the vigil mass of the Holy day so I would like to share a few thoughts in relation to this Feast of tomorrow that we call, The Immaculate Conception. When Our Lady appeared in Lourdes, Bernadette asked who she was and the reply came, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’ What was unknown to that peasant country girl was that the pope of the time was preparing to declare a feast day in honour of the Immaculate Conception with the doctrine associated with it saying that from the first moment of her conception God kept Mary’s soul free from all effects of original sin. Back in those days there was a lot more focus on Original Sin than original blessings, plus a lot more focus on sin than grace and certainly more focus on the God of fear than the God of love. People had the belief that a child who died without being baptized would not go to Heaven but end up in Limbo. Plain common sense should have indicated that a child who came from God must surely go back to God unless the parents held on in morbid grief and refused to let go.
Limbo became a very definite place in the minds and hearts of parents who had lost such babies and left a legacy of untold suffering to think that I was responsible for bringing a child into the world that would never get to heaven. This was nonsense that was never taught officially by the Church but it was a belief that was widespread among the people for many generations. What modern theological research has unearthed is that Limbo was never meant to be understood as an actual place. Seemingly it originated back in medieval times when theologians were asked the question what happens to unbaptized babies, do they go straight to heaven or what? The answer they said was in Limbo. which simply meant the margin of the page. In other words, ‘we don’t know.’
When we consider how that doctrine was framed, that God kept Mary,s soul free from original sin we are inclined to think of something that came purely from above as a kind of divine gift or intervention. Yet the way God chooses to work is generally through the human medium. As St Augustine once said, Without God man cannot but without man God will not.’ This brings in the concept that Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, must have been called on to play a key role in imparting that gift since she was a product of their union.
Original sin by definition doesn’t belong to us it comes from our ancestral lineage and through our parents. So it would seem logical then to postulate that these two grandparents of Christ were truly noble souls who lived such a God-fearing life that when Mary was conceived they had no personal or ancestral baggage to pass on to her and so she was conceived free from what we term original sin. This is where we can say that it was Gods gift to her was to be conceived in this manner but it was also a gift that came through her parents. This left her completely free to give her unconditional yes to God’s will and what was to be her destiny I becoming the mother f the Saviour.
This is where the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception becomes relevant to us all and particularly to parents. By definition parents pass on so much of their life to their children and so they are born with similar looks, personalities and even mannerisms. In the course of time parents leave most of whatever is theirs to those who come after them. However what parents leave in a legacy goes far beyond whatever can be written on paper. Their greatest legacy is their unfinished business; what parents don’t complete in their lifetime is passed down to the next. So it is that that what one generation chooses to forget or ignore another will be forced to remember.
Here let me offer a few examples: Most counselors when asked to see a troubled child will refuse and ask to see the parents instead. The child who is acting out his or her anger is very likely to be expressing the conflict in the home either between the parents or even coming from just one where that person is full of anger not able to admit it. Most teachers more far more about the home life than parents might want them to, simply by the behavior of the child.
At a deeper level I had a man just today who lives far from here and won’t mind me mentioning his story. He’s a successful business man who is not in good shape and has been troubled and burdened most of his life. In tracing through the origin of his inner conflict what came to light was that his father was engaged in quite a lot of outer conflict in his early days. He was on the Republican side in the Civil War and during one ambush his brother and best friend were shot dead beside him and he was seriously wounded. With blood streaming from his wounds he fled the scene in such a state that he thought he might already be dead. He went on to live a troubled life never talking about his troubled past and died in a lot of pain. His unresolved issues became his son’s legacy. This man could never understand why he hated conflict so much and yet he was full of inner conflict. While the war was over for his father it had continued in him. He could never understand why he had spent his life running from emotional issues and finding it difficult to take responsibility. While his father had stopped running he had kept it up all his life and while his father could never take responsibility for his past and come to terms with it so this man always avoided responsibility. This was a case where a man’s problems we so much older than himself and to find peace in himself he had to go back to where it all began.
Finally a story comes to mind in relation to a conflict between neighbours that lasted for nearly 100 years. The Bible warns against not dealing with conflictual issues in our own lifetimes because without doing so they become a root of bitterness that can poison future generations. A man told me about his great grandfather having a row with a farmer next door over a piece of land. They both died bitterly estranged leaving families that hated each other. His grandfather continued the standoff and walls were built and ditches made higher. Next his father was no better and while the two sides went to the same church and even sat on different sides they must have completely missed the point of Communion when they came to the altar rails. This man said I still feel my ancestors in my bones when I see those people and now what is shocking is to see my kids keeping their distance even though they haven’t a clue as to what went on in the past. He decided that the way forward was to make contact with one member of the other family and offer to apologize on behalf of his ancestors and hopefully the other would do the same and in that way peace could be restored. I quoted a few lines from the poet Rumi to him that says ‘There is a garden beyond right and wrong, I’ll meet you there.’ He went on his way resolved to find that garden and meet his neighbor in that place .