somos tod@s la imaculada concepción…we are the immaculate conception
Mary Visits Elizabeth: Luke 1: 39-45: In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
I would like to start off with a short selection from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple …
CELIE: God forgot about me!
SHUG: God takin’ his time getting around to you, I admit, but look at all he give us. Laughin’, and singin’, and sex. Sky over our heads, birds singin’ to us. I think it piss God off if anybody even walk past the color purple in a field and not notice it. He say,”look what I made for you.”
I use the story to engage this Gospel passage… The story of Mary … A woman who transgressed borders. A woman called to be a mother, prophet, apostle, revolutionary…She has been exulted and divinized, yet her humanity has often been forgotten and ignored …It is her story that we will look at today to wrestle and grapple with the church’s teaching on the immaculate conception.
Llena de gracia…full of grace
Catholics around the world accept the teaching of the Immaculate Conception. However, what does it actually mean? In 1854, Pope Pius IX stated: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” What does it mean that Mary was preserved from sin? It is the belief that because of her unique mission, Mary was conceived immaculately in her mother’s womb so that sin would not pass on to her child, Jesus, who as son of GOD is free of sin.
It was a common belief in Israel that the sins of the parent were passed onto the child. If Jesus was to be free of sin, his mother would also have to be free from sin. My queries are…where does the cycle end…if sin is passed from generation to generation, was Mary’s mother, Anne, also free from sin? How far back does the immaculate lineage have to go? If Mary was not marked by sin, did she really have a choice … would she come down with sinfulness if she had said no? By focusing on conception for future conception, have we limited, distorted, and reduced Mary and by extension all women to worth based on biological breeding?
This feast and dogma has wider implications than explaining that Mary was a suitable receptacle for a son–it impacts how the church treats women and their bodies. It is a source of much division among Christians … with some believing that women should be subservient to their husbands as baby factories (those who cannot are defective machinery) while others affirm the right of women to be ordained and preach.
It is dogmas like the Immaculate Conception that lead to confusion and misunderstanding about Mary and I believe a neglect women, we coerce their womanhood into mindless biological assembly lines. It is this theological marginalization that we need to address so that we can proclaim all as being llena de gracia, full of grace.
In this place, I invite us to relook at what it means to be la Imaculada Concepción…To be conceived immaculately.
In proclaiming Mary as the Immaculate Conception, we are also proclaiming our own immaculate conception as children of GOD. The feast is not about Maria as an exception to the rule, but a celebration of who we are and who we will become. We are all conceived immaculately, each of us is llena de gracia, full of grace
If we look to Genesis, we are told that we are created in GOD’s image and that creation is good. From the beginning we are holy, we are perfect. Regardless of the goofs up that we may do upon entering the world, regardless of the run ins with the Sarah’s of the world who reject us and castigate us for being different, we are good, we are llena de gracia.
Past all the mistakes and oopses, past all the things we coulda woulda shoulda, we are good, we are llena de gracia. Many of the women included in biblical texts are due to their calling to be mothers. What does this calling mean What about those of us who cannot conceive children? Are we less filled with grace? No … regardless of our capacity or ability or willingness to give birth biologically … we are all called to give birth to the divine in our actions, words, and deeds … we are called to give birth through our vocations and callings. We too have been entrusted with baring GOD to the world. GOD has consecrated and created us with a mission from the time of our birth.
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” We are all llena de gracia.
As the Psalmist proclaims, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Regardless of the defects that society says we have or how denominations may tell us that we are unworthy for being a woman, black, or transgender, or when we are looked down upon for standing in solidarity with the oppressed, may we hold unto, remember, embrace that we are created, conceived and consecrated as good, as holy, as llena de gracia.
No one can take that away… We are Llena de gracia, full of grace.
Like our foremother Mary, we all have a purpose and personal vocation. It is a calling that we will learn to live out, that we will grow into, that will be revealed to us through out our lives, perhaps with angelic visits in the deserts of life, moments of prayer in chapel, proclamations received through loved ones.
We are not just born and that’s it … No, no, GOD has a special something for all of us to accomplish. Mother Teresa is humorously quoted as having said, “GOD as entrusted me with a specific amount of things to accomplish in this life, I am so far behind in my work, I will never die.” If we look to all the births that were announced in Scriptures, Isaac, Ishmael, Samuel, John, Jesus… The child born always had special vocation to live out.
This is not limited to Biblical figures, all of us come into this world with a special calling to live out, to be the change, holiness, and love GOD wants in this world. There is no right or better calling or right or better way to express it…it is expressed through a marian enthusiastic yes and through hagarian righteous anger. Immaculate conception does not mean we are passive and submissive, but like Mary we embody spiciness and chutzpah to care for those who are sacred to us.
The call to motherhood is not about breeding like rabbits or limited to female bodied individuals, we are called to be fruitful through the evolving multiplication of our abilities to listen, cook, design buildings, theologize, preach, and understand how the physiological makeup of fungus has implications for sexual ethics. By expanding our understanding of the immaculate conception. By honoring Mary, we celebrate the prophets and disciples we are all called to be, of who we are now on our journeys of faith and who we will become in the desert.
We are llena de gracia, full of grace, in our callings to be hospital chaplains, professors, parents, immigrant rights activists, reproductive health advocates, parish priests, youth ministers…all of the above, none of the above…in our calling to be human, we are full of grace, llena de gracia.
In the chaotic joy of living into our multiple callings, we must remember, hold onto, internalize, and put on a post it that we are not forgotten by GOD as Celie laments in the color purple, we are not abandoned or sent alone. We must hold onto Shug’s reminder of how GOD provides through laughter, singing, and sex. GOD does not forget about us for GOD is with us, just like GOD came to Hagar in the desert, meeting her where she was … just like GOD came to the prophet in the stillness after the thunder and storm … just like GOD came to a poor Jewish girl from the barrio … just like GOD was with Mary at the foot of the cross … just like the names Emmanuel and Ishmael … GOD with us and GOD listens … GOD is always there and is always here.
We may not feel it or believe it in our moments of grief, confusion, depression, chaos … when anger causes us to flee from the world into deserts of despair. In our earthquakes and hurricanes and pervasive brokenness… in our desolation for being rejected for fulfilling a task given to us–GOD is there, GOD is here…through a friend, through an email, through a butterfly, through an angel who tells us we will be cared for, despite our belief.
GOD is there and GOD is here…through the fact that we manage to get up and face the desert despite our exhaustion. GOD is there, GOD is here, for we are llena de gracia and full of grace. In this time of Advent as we prepare to celebrate the Word made flesh, may we remember our own births, how we were divinely knit, how we are lovingly woven together with purpose.
Though this homilitecal engagement is perhaps heretical and not what the good ol’ boys in Rome had in mind, I like Mary will not sit and wait, but will be counter-cultural and provide a counter narrative–we are the immaculate conception. We cannot let the church and society take away that we are immaculately conceived with sacred and sassy chutzpath!
We too are good, we too are consecrated with purpose, we too are llena de gracia, full of grace.
delfin bautista is a former member of cta’s vision council. They currently serve as the director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University.