God wants us all to be immaculate


This morning I preached the following sermon strongly influenced by notes taken at the Advent talk given by Fr. John Hemer for clergy in the diocese. As mentioned previously his address was inspirational.

Sometimes one meets a dysfunctional family where the parents behave in a way that is horrific and destructive. Yet the children, because it’s all they have known, do not understand the behaviour is exceptional. They grow up imagining violence or drunkenness, neglect or abuse is perfectly normal. It is only later that they realise something was deeply wrong, that things were not normal at all.

Today we honour Mary. The one woman in history who was, if the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches us anything, raised as God intended us to be. Free from sin and its corrosive effect. Meaning she, not us, is the normal one. Whilst we, tainted by original sin as we are, must be- to one degree or other, the dysfunction in our families; the problems for our communities. For we are damaged by sin. Romans puts it this way: All have sinned and lack the glory of God. But that’s not how God intended it to be remember, hence Ephesians says “he chose us to be holy and blameless before him”. That word ‘blameless’ being in Latin immaculati. So scripture is saying quite explicitly that God wanted us all to be immaculate- like Mary!

But we lost our immaculate nature at the fall. So that today sinfulness has become so inevitable as to seem normal, we imagine its part of human nature. But no, the bible says sin is part of fallen nature, damaged nature. Meaning every sin, no matter how small, is deeply unnatural. It makes us less human. Mary is the normal one- we the broken versions. For Mary, from her conception, by grace of God, lived free from the stain of original sin.

Original sin means our desires are disordered. That we want in life what make us less than human, and have done ever since Eve sinned and Adam copied her. We treat God as rival, imagine obedience curtails freedom and fun. But Mary’s Immaculate nature means she never treated God as rival or hungered for the inappropriate. God made her the example of normality for us. A human life lived by grace alone.

Usually when the Church defines dogmas it’s because there is dispute. But in 1854 Pius IX defined the IC without any dispute but it proved prophetic. For in the 19th century Europe started down a path that would prove destructive to humanity. Darwin teaching there was no purpose to creation save procreation and survival. That we are not children of God only products of harsh natural selection. And Nietzsche was determined to win the struggle. For him, God was dead and the man, should now take over and impose his will on the world. Two ideas which formed the philosophical underpinning of both Nazism and Communism. Those regimes that showed no regard for the dignity of man leading to the deaths of millions.

So, just as people said we are cells with no purpose, the Church held up the icon of Mary Immaculate- an image of goodness and love. Held up the IC just as the foundations were being laid for the modern culture of death. As man turned in on himself- the Church held up the one life that is normal. Mary our standard for human behaviour. An image offered to a broken world, a world so distorted by sin that sin is now believed to be normal even desirable. Consider how even the most natural and obvious statement of all-that man and woman belong together in marriage for the benefit of children – is challenged and even dismissed.

Interestingly there are four Dogmas concerning Mary. The first two came when the world was confused about the nature of God. So “Mary Mother of God” and “Her perpetual virginity” helped us understand who God is. The next two dogmas arrived relatively recently, as we have become confused about the nature of man. So the Immaculate Conception and Assumption help us understand what a human being really is.

So that, in 1950 the Church defines the assumption of Mary following two world wars. Which is to say the seeds planted in the 19th century bore deadly fruit in the 20th. Those ideas about life without purpose came true. 2 wars doing more to damage faith than any atheist propaganda. So via Mary, assumed body and soul into heaven, the Church proposes a different vision. Despite all that people had seen the Church was saying our destiny is not in a trench or a gas chamber or gulag, the victim of survival of the fittest. Nor is it in the dignitas or abortion sluice of today. No- God’s will is for each of us, like Mary, to have great dignity and worth on earth before we are raised to be with him in heaven. For God each and every life is to be held as precious and sacred.

In the years following the two world wars things have only got worse. There is now, if it is possible, an even more pessimistic view of life and its purpose, or lack of it. So much work for the Church to do then. But even that church  is in crisis due to the fall out caused by the doubts and fears of this generation. The liberal agenda, with its false sense of mercy, ever wanting to conform the church to the world rather than to lead the world in faith to Christ for transformation.

But in Mary- mother of God, ever virgin, conceived immaculate and assumed into heaven- the Church posseses an alternative view. The view of firm faith. Of God’s vision of human life. A natural life whose destiny ends in heaven. And that message has never been more needed than it is today. Which is why we must learn to celebrate it with courage. To stand up for the faith we hold dear. Meaning that when Christmas comes again- we don’t only delight in the baby lying in a manger. But lift him from it and take him into our hearts. That he might, by grace, make us normal and lead our souls to heaven.

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11 thoughts on “God wants us all to be immaculate

  1. Fr Ed, what do you make of the references to Jesus’s brothers in scripture and how does this square with Mary’s perpetual virginity? Not a trick question, I’m genuinely interested.

    1. I think the argument from tradition is very strong. Namely that Joseph was an older man, hence he is not around in Jesus later life, and that he was a widower with children from his previous marriage. There are the brothers and sisters. And there is Mary’s virginity. An interesting and compelling case has recently been made that Mary was in fact connected with the Essenes who repaired the veil of the temple. These women, unusually for Judaism, took vows of consecrated virginity. They were also given benefactors such as Joseph. And it would add strength to Mary’s puzzlement about how she would conceive- given that she was already betrothed to Joseph- it would have been hard to imagine otherwise.

  2. Biblical and historical analysis shows the Jews had no word for wider relatives. All family members were ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’. This happens numerous times such as the day of Pentecost when Mary was present with his ‘Brothers’. There were about 120 of them. There’s loads of other similar examples.

    1. Still today, in some cultures, in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, the terms brother and sister have very wide application (e.g. siblings, wider family, clan, tribe and wider). In such cases, if the relationship is not specified we have no means of knowing who is being referred to. Even in our own culture, members of religious orders refer to other members as brother and sister. Incidentally, the fact that Jesus, at the Crucifixion, gave his mother into the care of John means that there were no male siblings, Jewish custom at the time required that the oldest remaining son take on the role of maternal protector. In many early Egyptian texts people are referred to as sons and daughters of the king as a term of royal honour. Where there is a paternal relationship it is specified.

  3. Harvey,
    I have always gone with the maxim, if in doubt stick with the tradition, and so am happy with the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, but even if subsequently she had other children, she would still be forever, the Virgin Mother of God. That moment in time which we call the Annunciation is for ever true.

  4. I think the tendency to equate Mary’s virginity with her sinlessness has caused a great deal of confusion around the nature of human sexuality over the years.

  5. Too true, Harvey. The tradition of Mary’s virginity, like the exaggerated Catholic emphasis on the importance of the marginal state of celibacy, so obviously comes out of ancient notions (Christian and pagan) that sexual activity is incompatible with holiness or the service of God – a blatant contradiction of belief in God’s creation and incarnation. The sentimental idealising of Mary has been used to justify an unreal standard by which to berate human “sinfulness.” It leads inter alia to the incredible meanness by which the divorced and remarried are debarred from holy communion – even though they may only be people who have been unlucky and are simply trying to salvage some happiness from the wreckage of their lives. Even more incredibly clerics presume to support this scapegoating on the grounds of their being “objectively in a state of sin.” Well, so is everyone for that matter, so maybe nobody should ever be admitted to the sacraments – none of us is holy enough.

    1. The tradition of Mary’s virginity,

      Margaret B. As far as I an aware, the tradition of Mary’s Virginity, comes from the Gospel. Correct me if I’m wrong of course.

  6. Ian, of course you are right, but do we not always have to ask of everything in Scripture, how is this to be interpreted? The stories of Christ’s birth are notoriously tricky. What in them can be taken as literal historical truth? (Mark and John don’t bother with them at all).
    The heart of Christian belief is surely that Jesus is the unique Son of God, the human person who is also God. How he comes to be Son of God is not so important for us, indeed impossible to know. The virginity of Mary is part of an explanation of Jesus’ divinity tied to an archaic view of the world and how God works. We surely cannot be committed to that for ever, any more than we can to the notion of a flat earth. I think I am probably like most people today in seeing the presence and work of God in people and the world as much more subtle and mysterious, much more “deeply interfused.”

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