Congrégation Sœurs de Saint Joseph d’Annecy
10 Place au Bois, 74000 Annecy, France
Tel. Sr. Breda Gainey ++ 33 (0)450 51 08 70
++33 751 062174 (mobile)
Généralat ++ 33(0) 450 52 74 99
December 8th 2021
My Dear Sisters,
In a few days’ time we will celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. We, as Sisters of St. Joseph, are invited by our founder Fr. Medaille, to set aside three days prior to the feast in order to reflect. We bring our deepest desires to Mary asking her to obtain from her son Jesus, “our ardent desire for the salvation of the neighbour and a great purity of intention in all our conduct”. (Spiritual Directory)
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception centres on the belief that Jesus's mother, the Virgin Mary, was conceived without sin. Pope Pius IX issued an apostolic constitution, known as the Ineffabilis Deus, on December 8, 1854. This document clarified the importance of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Church. On December 8, we honour Mary, our Mother. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a Catholic feast celebrating Mary's conception without sin. Even though this feast day occurs in the liturgical season of Advent, which prepares for the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception asserts that, "from the first moment of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of Mankind, kept free from all stain of original sin “in 1858, the Blessed Mother gave her name to St. Bernadette at Lourdes stating, "I am the Immaculate Conception”.
We continue to live in a time of pandemic and our lives have been challenged and affected as the virus took hold all over the world. Our love and service took on different forms as Covid 19 brought death to millions and serious hardship to those who were not able to avail of necessary treatment. Mary was first of all a human being and she would be found amongst the poorest as they lived their lives in poverty and felt the weight of their helplessness in turbulent times. She would be amongst those women who, filled with fear as the Taliban advanced on Kabul, went to the Embassy to seek protection and safety for themselves and their children.
I would like to take the opportunity to focus on two words which affect each of us and apply them to the person of Mary and see how she coped with these situations in her life.
The church encourages us to imitate Mary in all things. Mary was asked to trust in God more than any other human being ever created. The angel appeared to her and one of the first things he said was “Do not fear”. She would become the mother of God, but God would be with her through it all. Pope Benedict, in writing about this, says that Mary had everything to fear, for it was a heavy burden for her to bear the weight of the world upon herself, to be the mother of the universal King, to be the mother of the Son of God….what a burden that was.
We have not been asked to carry that particular burden but perhaps we feel burdened in other ways. Maybe we are dealing with the burden of ill health, or loneliness. Maybe we are afraid of the violence that is in the world or of the death of someone we love. Maybe we are afraid of losing what brings us security or of change that asks us to let go of what we know….Fear can paralyse us. We are called to face up to our fears, to acknowledge them and to hear those words “I am with you…..do not be afraid.” Mary has been there before us and she trusted in her God….What are you afraid of at this moment in your life?
Vulnerability is the next word I want to reflect on. Being vulnerable is to be human. Mary’s “yes” to God put her in a vulnerable position as she put God at the centre of her life. It took strength and courage. Her “yes” bound her to the Word of God growing within her. When we see Mary—the woman, the mother, our sister—we hear in the words of her song, a deep wisdom and understanding of who God is and what it means to be human. We know the strength and vulnerability that will be required of Mary. Mary sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for God has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.” Because of the new life the Spirit of God breathed in her, Mary knew…and we know…that God comes to the lowly, is present in the lowliness. Her song is a claim, singing God’s praise, knowing that she will not be defined by her social status or the values of the culture around her. We are God’s chosen, God’s beloved. Who we are, begins with God… with who God is.
Where in your life at the moment, do you find yourself feeling vulnerable? Others can feel uncomfortable when we feel vulnerable or share our vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to be fragile and Christ is in our fragility. Who do you trust with your fragility? Do you appear strong on the outside but feel vulnerable on the inside?
When Jesus was arrested and crucified, was Mary afraid? Did she feel vulnerable as she stood at the foot of the cross watching her beloved Son take his last breath? Mary’s story is a story about what it means to be a woman, it is a story about what it means to be human. Mary’s story magnifies the feminine, the mother, the woman…and claims the strength of the masculine. But Mary’s story leaves no doubt that women have a place in the kingdom of God, in bringing heaven to earth.
As we continue to live through this time of pandemic, as we watch our planet being ravished by climate change, as we watch Afghanistan and other countries disintegrate through violence and war, let us look to the person of Mary who was a woman like us. It was precisely this woman, this very human person that was called to be mother of God and who is being honoured in this great feast of the Immaculate Conception.
We are called to live like Mary to live love through our charism. Are we willing to admit our humanness? Are we ready to admit that we can feel fearful of life sometimes? Are we prepared to acknowledge our fragility and vulnerability when we experience it in our lives? Let us be open and receptive to grace this Advent. “I am with you always” Jesus tells us. Do you really believe that? As we await the birth of Jesus, may each one of us, like Mary, be filled with the blessings we need.
Wishing each of you, all the blessings of this great feast and a peaceful and blessed Advent. With every blessing and prayer,