The Virgin Without Sin
Gospel Commentary for Feast of Immaculate Conception
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, DEC. 7, 2007 (Zenit) - With the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic Church affirms that Mary, on account of a singular privilege bestowed by God and in view of the merits of Christ's death, was preserved from contracting the stain of original sin and came into existence already completely holy.
Four years after being defined by Pope Pius IX, this truth was confirmed by the Madonna herself at Lourdes in an apparition to Bernadette with the words: "I am the Immaculate Conception."
The feast of Mary Immaculate reminds humanity that there is only one thing that truly lowers man -- sin. It is a very urgent message to repeat. The world has lost the sense of sin. We joke as if it were the most harmless thing in the world. The world presents its products and spectacles as sinful to make them more attractive. It talks about sin, even the gravest sins, in terms of endearment: peccadilloes, little vices, etc. The expression "original sin" is used in the advertising world to indicate something very different from the Bible: A sin that confers a bit of originality on the one who commits it!
The world is afraid of everything but sin. It is afraid of pollution, the obscure maladies of the body, nuclear war, terrorism; but it is not afraid of the war against God, who is the eternal; the all-powerful; love. Jesus says, however, not to be afraid of those who kill the body, but only of him who after he has killed has the power to cast into Gehenna (cf. Luke 12:4-5).
This way of thinking exercises a tremendous influence even on believers who want to live according to the Gospel. It produces a sleep of conscience in them, a kind of spiritual anesthesia. There is a drug that skews our understanding of sin. The Christian people no longer recognize its true enemy, the master that enslaves it; this is because what we have is a gilded slavery.
Many who speak of sin no longer have an entirely adequate idea of it. Sin becomes depersonalized and is projected only onto institutions; we end up identifying sin with the position of our own political and ideological adversaries. An investigation about what people think sin is would probably have frightening results.
Instead of liberation from sin, all efforts today are focused on liberation from regret over sin; instead of fighting against sin we fight against the idea of sin, replacing it with something very different, namely, "guilt feelings." We do precisely that which in every other sphere is considered the worst thing of all, that is, we deny the problem rather than resolve it, we push back and bury evil in the unconscious instead of removing it.
It is similar to believing that we can eliminate death by eliminating the thought of death, or worrying about bringing down the fever rather than curing the sickness when the fever is only a providential revelatory symptom of the sickness. St. John says that if we claim to be without sin, then we deceive ourselves and we make God a liar (cf. 1 John 1:8-10); God, in fact, says the contrary, he says that we have sinned.
Scripture says that Christ "died for our sins" (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3). If you take away sin, then Christ's redemption itself is made futile, you have destroyed the meaning of his death. Christ would then have been tilting at windmills, he would have spilled his blood for nothing.
But the dogma of Mary Immaculate also tells us something very positive: God is stronger than sin and where sin abounds grace abounds even more (cf. Romans 5:20).
Mary is the sign and guarantee of this. The whole Church, after her, is called to become "glorious, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, that she might be holy and immaculate" (Ephesians 5:27). A text of the Second Vatican Council says: "But while in the Most Holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she is without spot or wrinkle, the followers of Christ still strive to increase in holiness by conquering sin. And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues" ("Lumen Gentium," 65).
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
* * *
Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception are Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38.
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