His Name Will Be Emmanuel
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception | Fr David Rocks reflects upon the immense relevance of today’s feast.
I had just finished the last celebration of Mass on that particular Sunday. It had been a great Day of the Resurrection, and many people had come along to celebrate with us. There would be some time now for relaxing. Then the sound – beeep! The hospital calling.
I made the call – a family in distress. We’d celebrated the sacraments for their Dad just the night before. But this was the end. Would we come and spend those last few moments with him? The breathing was shallow, the pain was immense. The love was abounding. There was life in that person, and those he loved used the last moments to express – through pained expressions and tearful eyes – their love for their Father; their grief at his passing; their hope for the life to come. “Thank you Father for sharing that with us” one said, genuine in gratitude. A painful moment, perfused with hope. All I could do was offer my hand and share the path with them.
Following the message of the Gospel, we believe in the sanctity of life from conception, with no exception. Life is sacred from the first moment of conception until natural death. I’ve glimpsed that, in so many ways, and learned from it. And if I’m in danger of forgetting, the Church constantly reminds me through obedience to the ministry she has entrusted to me. The sanctity of human life is something that is very real. But if it is, it’s only because our salvation is very real also.
And that, I suppose, is my problem with the Immaculate Conception. We’re supposed to be celebrating that Mary was conceived without any stain from sin. Good for her – but what does it mean? Is it something that matters in real life? Did it make any real difference in her life? Otherwise how could it be of any relevance to the lives of others?
But it is of immense relevance, and the clue is in the name – the Holy Name. It’s the name revealed in the Gospel passage for today: Emmanuel – God-With-Us. This is what makes sense of the Immaculate Conception. This is what makes it so very relevant to all of our lives. This is why we should be fired for mission by this celebration.
God-With-Us gives Himself so totally. He is called Emmanuel, because He is the one who comes and dwells with us in our weakness. In Him is the fulness of the Godhead, and he comes to focus our distorted contemplation of the beauty of creation, the bountifulness of God. In seeking to offer Himself so totally to us, in all His Majesty and Glory, He comes to be with us in our lowest places. Where do we feel the fracture and brokenness of life most? What about times when we want to give up, pack it in? When do we want to pretend it’s okay, put up a front, seek some release? In those places, God is with us, as God-With-Us, Emmanuel.
And that’s the point of this special feast day. Emmanuel came from Her very being, from her body. Life from conception, no exception. From that very first moment, when She so totally and freely accepted His Advent, He is God-With-Us, at one with us in all our need. He chose Her, so that we could choose Him, and through Her Immaculate Conception, She was able to see so very clearly, to contemplate so very completely. We still struggle with that because of sin, but God-With-Us is pulling us up. She said Yes to that for us, because she knew already. She’d already seen. Now She wants us to realise.
To my mind, the beautiful prayer of the Miraculous Medal is the best way to resolve any confusion that remains about this feast and its relevance. I’m not completely clear about it all yet, because I still need God’s grace to help me, and I need the Church to pray for my conversion. Let’s pray together: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.” This little prayer, and the wearing of the Miraculous Medal, can help us to grow in grace. Within it, we are asking for the same clarity of focus that allowed Mary to see things so clearly as She said Yes and conceived Her Son. That clarity came because She is the Immaculate Conception, granted this great grace to say Yes. For us, we rejoice that His Name is Emmanuel.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of the Lourdes grotto where Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette in 1858, and said: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”