Saint of the day
A feast called the Conception of Mary arose in the Eastern Church in the seventh century. It came to the West in the eighth century. In the eleventh century it received its present name, the Immaculate Conception. In the eighteenth century it became a feast of the universal Church. It took a long time for this doctrine to develop. While many Fathers and Doctors of the Church considered Mary the greatest and holiest of the saints, they often had difficulty in seeing Mary as sinless—either at her conception or throughout her life. This is one of the Church teachings that arose more from the piety of the faithful than from the insights of brilliant theologians. Even such champions of Mary as Bernard and Thomas Aquinas could not see theological justification for this teaching. But it arose out of the sense of the faithful that Mary was born without the fragility of “original sin,” that is, the innate propensity to fall away from God.
We have limitations inherent in our condition as human beings. We are finite, and because we don’t have everything we need in ourselves, we rely on things outside of ourselves to continue our existence. Sometimes this reliance injures us, as we misuse the resources we need to exist, and sometimes this reliance makes us more complete, as we properly use these resources to make all the things around us, not just ourselves, better and more whole. Most appropriately, when we connect to God’s infinite completeness, we find ourselves made whole and overcome all the limitations of our nature as finite beings. I believe that when the Church speaks about original sin, it really is speaking to the fragility of our being finite and our need for things to make us complete. Mary always automatically understood and behaved in a way that recognized God completed her. This is what we mean by, “Immaculate Conception,” that is, Mary’s utter reliance on God’s completion to satisfy the dilemma of her incomplete nature as a human being.