The language of Christianity is the language of paradox, wonder and mystery. There is always something unknown about the known, that leaves us in wonder; and sometimes we even stray from the mystery. We find traces of this language in the story of the Israelites. While they were a people of God, a people surrounded by His wonders, they were also a people that went astray.
There is a history to Israel abandoning God. It began in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve couldn’t understand the mystery of God’s goodness. They couldn’t trust Him to wait for His plan for them to unfold. They were in a hurry to be like God, and independent of God. Thus, when the devil offered them what they wanted, they turned their backs on God.
This is Original Sin, that universal condition that makes us to distrust God; to say No to His Way; to choose to follow our own ways. It is the condition that betrays who we truly are. The First Reading from Genesis 3:9-15, 20 reveals the consequences of this condition: God’s voice frightens us; we realise we are naked without God; we hide from God; we blame others.
To redeem humanity from this condition, God chose a woman, Mary and granted her a singular grace and privilege that preserved her from Original Sin. This grace, according to Pius IX’s bull Ineffabilis Deus issued on December 8, 1854 was in view of the merits of Jesus Christ. It is the grace that reveals the Original Good: the capacity of humanity to trust God, abide in Him.
The Second Reading from Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12 speaks of God choosing us in Christ before the world was made. “He chose us in Christ to be holy (set apart wholly for the Lord) and blameless (unblemished), and to live through love in His presence…” This goes to confirm what Yves Congar said, “there are hints of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the bible”.
The obvious hint is found in the Gospel Reading from Luke 1:26-38. In verse 28, Luke used a Greek word Kecharitomene, which means Mary was full of grace all her life; fit for the Author of Grace. Notice how Gabriel greeted Mary, “Hail, Full of Grace”. At that time, it was normal that the greeting “Hail” was followed by a person’s title. “Full of Grace” was Mary’s title.
Typical of the time was the fact that a title or a name reveals the mission of the bearer. So, Full of Grace reveals that Mary was full of God’s Presence. She was unblemished, without any of the consequences of Original Sin. She was holy. This is confirmed by the interior freedom she expressed at the visit of the Archangel. She freely said Yes to God because she trusted Him.
So, where once distrust reigned, trust is now restored by the singular grace of God. Luke accounts for the possibility of this grace when he said, “with God all things are possible”. Friends, this is where the language of Christianity moves us from the paradox of distrust and trust, to the wonder of God’s goodness and then leaves us in the mystery of His revelation.
We are a people of mystery. To live without mystery, and to avoid participating in the paradoxes of life for want of certainty and clarity is to relive the Original Sin experience. Christ has freed us of this experience in baptism. Therefore, it is left for us to accept this freedom and participate with Mary in the mystery of the Original Good: trusting God and abiding in Him.
Fr. Francis Afu