Seasonal Reflection: Immaculate Conception

Daniel McLellan, OFM Features

In preparation for the feast on Dec. 8, the pastor of a parish bearing the name Immaculate Conception, shares thoughts on what the “Marion title says about Jesus.”

It’s a puzzle to many why a Catholic bishop in the “Bible Belt” would let a church be named Immaculate Conception.

Wouldn’t it be ecumenically better to name a congregation after one of the attributes of Jesus? Or maybe a name from the Bible? At least I thought so until I refreshed my grasp of what this Marian title says about Jesus — and about us.

By claiming that Mary was freed from any sin from the very moment of her conception, we claim that the serving life and saving death of Jesus has an extraordinary breadth and depth. It reaches backwards and forwards in time, gracing and blessing at the very root of human life.

It’s no accident that a friar, Duns Scotus, championed this view of God’s saving power. Francis saw that even leprosy could not hide the presence of God. The primacy of Jesus, capstone of all creation, trumpets the goodness of even a sin-scarred creation. That God-in-the flesh was always meant to be, prompts us to take a whole new look at discipleship.

I’d like to think we see this in our parish, Immaculate Conception. Since our name salutes what Jesus did for Mary, it also salutes what Jesus does for us, Mary’s fellow disciples.

mclellanOur Sunday Mass is not something we celebrate for God, but what God celebrates for us. Our faith formation is about coming to know God before coming to know about God. Our “being in the world” is not about fine-tuning the cultures we find around the dining room table, in our schools and in our work, in life among our neighbor with lessons learned at church. It’s about living the culture of “bread broken and cup shared” as family, schoolmates, colleagues and citizens. Who we are, in our many relationships, is the primacy of Christ “at work” in our world today.

Before it was ever a contentious dogma, the Immaculate Conception is a person, a wife, mother and widow, a lady often confused, sometimes angry, whom God’s love made whole, in a way that turns our theology inside out. The Immaculate Conception, in a world of many religions, is a lady who witnesses that the Word of God can never be chained. And being a parish bearing her name gives us a freedom that we know can really “do something new.”

— Fr. Dan, a native of Massachusetts, has served as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church since 2005.