On this feast in which we celebrate the purity in which Mary was conceived we are invited to meditate on the favor of redemption given to her from the moment of her creation. The angel Gabriel is sent to her to declare “the Lord is with [her]” and that she has “found favor with God.” However, the Church also invites us to reflect on the fact that this gift of favor (which in its “ever-perfect” form has been bestowed exclusively upon Mary) has, nevertheless, been offered to the rest of us as well. St. Paul relates in the second reading that God “has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” This too is a gift as Paul relates, “In love he destined us for adoption for himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will.”
In the first reading for this feast the book of Genesis relates that our first parents had eaten from the tree of which God had forbidden them to eat and thereby lost God’s favor for themselves and their posterity. The core of the message being related to us in today’s readings seems to be that the favor of God has once again been restored to us through the redemption wrought by Christ.
John Paul writes in his Theology of the Body that “Christ is God’s final word on this subject; in fact, the covenant established with him and through him between God and humanity opens an infinite prospect of Life: and access to the tree of Life–according to the original plan of God of the covenant–is revealed to every man in its definitive fullness” (TOB 65:6). “Fullness,” in fact, reminds us of the words of the angel to Mary as it is sometimes translated “full of grace” rather than “found favor with God”. All of this makes clear that we too are able to be recreated in fullness and not just in some lesser measure because of the fullness of redemption that is found in Christ and offered to us. Further, the more we respond to Christ’s offer of himself the more redemptive fruit we can offer to the world in a similar way to Mary’s offer to the world of the Fruit of her womb. St. Augustine once stated that this Fruit of her womb, Jesus, was preceded by the fruit of her heart offered in total to God. John Paul tells us that St. Paul spoke of this fact when in his letter to the Romans he relates that it is, “precisely in this [redeemed] man, in his ‘heart’ and thus in all his behavior, that the redemption of Christ bears fruit, thanks to the powers of the Spirit that bring about ‘justification,’ that is, that cause justice to ‘abound’ in man, as the Sermon on the Mount insistently teaches (Mt 5:20), that is, to ‘abound’ in the measure God himself wills and expects” (TOB 52:1).
John Paul reflects further on St. Paul’s teaching of attributing this power of purity in fullness of form to the gift of the Holy Spirit. “We owe this completeness perhaps to nothing other than the fact that Paul considers purity not only as an ability (or aptitude) of man’s subjective faculties, but at the same time as a concrete manifestation of life “according to the Spirit” in which human ability is made fruitful from within and enriched by what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22, TOB 54:4). This reminds us once again of the words of the angel to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Finally, as Augustine reminded us, “God wills to save us, but not without us.” We should never believe that all of the work of redemption is God’s alone even if that is in some sense true, still in another it is not. We have our part to do and that is to be open to receive this grace of the Holy Spirit. John Paul writes, “the inner man must open himself to life according to the Spirit, in order to share in evangelical purity of heart: in order to find again and realize the value of the body, freed by redemption from the bonds of concupiscence” (TOB 58:5). In order to receive and bear the fruit of redemption we have to again follow the perfect example of our Blessed Mother always responds to God with, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Ordained in 2007, Fr. John Linden enjoyed three years as a parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Ann Arbor before becoming the Chair of the Formation Department for the Diocese of Lansing as well as the Director of Seminarians. Fr. John travels throughout the diocese giving presentations on topics including vocations and vocational discernment as well as Theology of the Body and its connection to both marriage and consecrated life.