Immaculate Conception and the Year of Mercy


Each year our pastor begins his homily on the second Sunday of Advent with the sentence, “God puts two people on our runway to Christmas.” Two people who are there to help us DO Advent and truly reach Christmas and not just December 25th. The first is John the Baptist, “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Luke 1:3-6

stjohnthebaptistWe hear the story of John the Baptist in the gospel on the second Sunday of Advent. The Word of God passed all the “important” people of the day but reached the one in the desert, ready to hear It. John told his followers to stop identifying themselves by their sin. He preached a baptism of repentance of forgiveness of sins. It is time to break the old patterns, the pattern of identifying yourself by your mistakes and change how you think of who you are. Proclaiming the baptism of repentance of sins was a strategy to get to God. Advent is a time of preparation for us. It is a time to smooth everything out so that the Lord has a straight path into our hearts. Our rough parts are made smooth; the high parts made low; the low parts made high. When we do Advent, Jesus is able to move in. Then God’s Word will become flesh and not pass us by.

 The second person on our runway to Christmas is Mary. Today’s feast is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrates Mary, conceived without sin. St. Ann and St. Jerome had prayed long and hard for a baby. Sweet Mary was born without sin so that she could become the mother of our Lord and Savior. Growing up, I often focused more on the conception of Jesus on this feast day. It wasn’t until I was in college that I finally understood the difference. At Mass today we hear the gospel of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to tell her she would be have a son.

Our Perfect Mother

This year the Immaculate Conception also marks the beginning of the Year of Mercy, as declared by Pope Francis. When I think of mercy, I tend to think about God’s forgiveness. However, much like my childhood view of the Immaculate Conception, I think I need to broaden my view of God’s mercy. I recently read that the root word of mercy is a Latin word misericordia, derived from the two words miserere (“pity” or “misery”) and cor (“heart”). When we ask God for mercy, we are asking Him to relieve someone or ourselves of a heart of misery. So many different things can cause a heart of misery, and offering God’s mercy is more than forgiving someone who has wronged us or asking God for forgiveness.

When Mary saw the angel Gabriel, she accepted God’s will without question. Rather than let the news “sink in,” she went “in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth to help her for three months. She offered mercy to Elizabeth by helping her during her pregnancy. Mary, in her humility, accepted God’s will, the path to her heart straight. God became flesh.  

As we move through Advent, we prepare our hearts and homes for Jesus to be born into our lives once more. What is one way we can show mercy to everyone we meet this Advent and during this year of mercy? One simple way I have been trying to show mercy is by showing kindness. Examples can include an extra smile at the stranger who looks harried in the grocery aisle or an extra few seconds or minutes of conversation with the cashier who is working overtime. Sometimes a simple smile or a kind word when someone isn’t expecting it is the best mercy we can show in a day. We are bringing God’s mercy and love to that person in our smile. It also helps us, breaking the old patterns and habits, helping us change the way we look at ourselves and making straight the paths to our hearts.