Mary Immaculate

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Scripture is a special fruit of the Deposit of Faith. One day on the air I said, "When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He left a Body, not a book." It was one of those peak moments when I felt that the words were not really my own, but a great gift to me.

Late in life I have come to realize how "non-Scriptural" the doctrine of Original Sin is. I don't think the Jews saw that lesson in their own scriptures. Christians came to know it only after seeing the mystery of God the Son suffering and dying on the Cross. Until God solved our problem on the Cross, we had no idea how much trouble we were in. Understanding the doctrine of Original Sin in depth comes long after the writing of the books of the New Testament. We cannot even get started on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception until the doctrine of Original Sin is developed, so it is not surprising that there is no text that states the doctrine as explicitly as the Magisterium does.

When Paul says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23), "all" cannot mean "all" because Jesus Christ is a true human being--he is truly one of us. Paul is therefore not using a formal term when he writes "all," but is using a figure of speech. We have the same problem in the accurate translation of the formula for consecration. "For many" is a phrase filled with Scriptural connotations and associations, and should not be interpreted as "Jesus did not offer Himself for all of God's lost children."

The same reasoning applies, of course, to the Psalm: "There is none who does good, not even one" (14:2-3). While this is true of us ordinary, fallen children of God, it does not preclude God acting in a special way in Jesus and Mary.

Although Mary is the clearest and most perfect example of "prevenient grace," I think the whole of Old Testament history has to be dealt with from the same standpoint. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the prophets, the judges, the repentant sinners like David, the authors and editors of Scripture, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Simeon, and Anna were likewise filled with God's mercy and love through the death of the Son on the Cross. How else could Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus "in glory" in the Transfiguration if they were not lifted up during their life on earth by prevenient grace? How else could the Good Thief have received saving faith before Jesus' work on the Cross was finished?

Mary's gift is not a solitary jewel. It is surrounded by a myriad of jewels in Jesus' crown of glory. The flawlessness of Jesus and Mary is not sterile. The purity of their love reveals our destination (or pre-destination) in eternity. What Jesus and Mary were from the very beginning of their lives we shall become at the end of our lives.

The grace of being preserved from sin from the moment of her conception is like the gift of ten talents to the servant in the parable. Mary can earn more than anyone else because the unearned gift of perfect union with God is greater than the graces given to other members of the Body of Christ. To her, much was given--of her much was required. She is still reaping the fruits of her faithfulness even in eternity. We tend to envy the wealth of her glory, just as the other servants objected to the most fruitful servant being given the talent that had not been invested by the fearful servant: "Yes, but he has ten talents!" The Master replied, "To everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance" (Mt 25:28).

Mary has received greater graces than any of us. She used them all wisely and well. She is wealthier than any of us. God does not ask us to be her. He asks us to use the gifts He has given us just as she used the gifts He had given her, so that He may say to us, as He said to her, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master" (Mt 25:28).

I don't know that any reflections along those lines will help our separated brothers and sisters. Maybe they just need time to let stuff soak in. The real block may have nothing to do with Mary at all. Questions about her unique relationship with God could just be a convenient excuse not to let God take possession of the whole of our lives. He is the most absurd guest. If you give Him an inch, He will take a mile; if you give Him a mile, He will take the whole highway.