Passing the Faith

Photo credit: Chip Kelsch

Immaculate Conception– Passing the Faith to every generation

By Father Richard S. Jones, Chaplain, UPMC Mercy Hospital

Each week in his post-game news conference, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin assesses the performance of his team by saying, “There is nothing perfect about our play but our record.” He means that though the scores show we have not yet lost a game, the opposition is waiting to dethrone us. The same holds true for our life of faith.

The most famous Steelers play, one that most fans know well, was dubbed the “Immaculate Reception.” With the Steelers trailing in the final 30 seconds against Oakland in the AFC divisional playoff game on December 23, 1972, quarterback Terry Bradshaw attempted a pass to John Fuqua. The ball either bounced off the helmet of Raiders safety Jack Tatum or off Fuqua’s hands. As it was falling, fullback Franco Harris grabbed it and ran for the winning touchdown. This amazing play propelled the Steelers to a 13-7 victory.

NFL Films chose it as their greatest play of all time. It was the turning point for the Steelers franchise, which reversed four decades of futility with its first playoff win ever, then won four Super Bowls over the next seven years.

Sportscaster Myron Cope was the first to call it the “Immaculate Reception.”  The name is, of course, a pun derived from the Immaculate Conception, a dogma in the Roman Catholic Church. The moniker stuck because the play seemed miraculous in nature (like a Hail Mary pass) and because the ball was kept pure from the stain of turf. That single miraculous play changed our city forever!

Now, for the real Immaculate Conception. In 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed solemnly in his encyclical  Ineffabilis Deus, as an infallible dogma of the Catholic faith, that, “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin .”

This momentous day celebrates the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother Anne, without any inheritance of original sin. It should not be confused with the Virgin Birth, in which Mary conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit alone, without any human father. The Immaculate Conception is about Mary’s miraculous holiness, the holiness that helped her to say “yes” to becoming the Virgin Mother.

The Catholic Catechism #492 states—“The ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first instant of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ: she is ‘redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by the reason of the merits of her Son.’ The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.’”

St. Paul reminds us that all persons are born in sin (Romans 5:12) due to the sin of Adam and Eve, through which humanity lost sanctifying grace.  Everything in us is tainted by sin – even the best in us is marred. Mary, however, remained obedient to God, just as Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection showed his obedience to God the Father.

St. Irenaeus wrote, “Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the human race.”   Through her Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary — true daughter of Zion, the holy city of God — is now ready to receive Emmanuel, God-with-us, in the temple of her womb.

In our human, sinful, fallen, and wounded condition, Mary, ‘the sinless one,’ is a sign of hope and a refuge of sinners. Mary, the New Eve, stands as a selfless model of humility, obedience simplicity, generosity,  charity,  prayerfulness, purity, holiness, trust, and faith who show us what a life of following Jesus truly can be.

Ancient people navigated by the stars. She is our guiding star. As Pope Benedict said, “The star of Mary Immaculate shines down the path of Advent….What person is more luminous than Mary? “ The Blessed Mother will help us in our struggle with sin, in our battle against all that separates us from God and one another.  As adopted children of God, we rejoice in Jesus’ victory over sin, sickness, suffering, Satan, and death. Through faith, in baptism, grace is available to all who believe in Jesus, in every generation.  

The medieval mystical theologian, Dominican Father Meister Eckhart, once wrote, “What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not full of grace too? What good is it to me if the Creator brings forth his Son if I do not bring him forth in my lifetime and in my world? This then is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us.”

Let us thank God for his gift of our Immaculate Mother, Mary, and ask for her protection.