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December 8, 2010 |The Long Island Catholic Vol. 49, No. 33 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY

Every year on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, our Seminary at Lloyd Harbor witnesses the ordination of men to the diaconate who are in their final preparation to be ordained priests the following June. Bishop DiMarzio and I alternate in ordaining the men for our two dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre. The ordaining bishop for the particular year is also the bishop who offers the opening retreat at the beginning of the academic year to all the seminarians enrolled at the Immaculate Conception Seminary. For our seminary it is the highlight of all the events that take place there. Of course, the families present are proud and joy-filled to see their sons, grandsons, brothers and uncles receive this ordination to the diaconate, the final liturgical moment before their ordination to priesthood. The seminarians rejoice for their brothers with whom they have been living, praying, studying and preparing themselves for the same goal.

Our Lady whom we all honor on her feast day under the title of the Immaculate Conception is central to our lives of faith and central to the life of both our dioceses. To be Catholic carries with the gift of faith a deep and filial love for Mary. The Church long has dedicated the month of May to Mary. We also focus our devotion to her in October through special emphasis on the rosary, an emphasis that makes October the month in which we renew our commitment to all human life, especially the unborn.

But in a certain sense this month of December brings Mary to us with very distinctive and compelling force. First in sequence is of course Mary in her Immaculate Conception. This dogma, while defined in 1854 by Blessed Pius IX, has been a part of our faith as a Church from the beginning. This devotion grew more and more widely a part of the Church’s prayer life over time. Theologians from the early Church on extolled God’s goodness in recognizing that, by a special gift of God’s prevenient grace, Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin so that she could be the fit instrument of God’s plan of salvation. As St. Bernard loved to say, “She conceived Him in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb.” That is why she always willed to do what God asked of her whatever that may be. That is why she, who committed herself to be the virgin Daughter of Sion, was made fit through this grace to become the Ark of the Tabernacle, the one who bore Jesus within her as He dwelt in her womb until the day of His coming into the world. That is why we, with the whole Church, believe and rejoice in her perpetual virginity, a virginity that makes her and her alone, the Virgin Mother of God. For all that we hail her as “Full of grace.” From December 8 to December 12 is only four short days but it is many centuries to that day in Tepayac when Juan Diego encountered Mary whom we honor as the Virgin of Guadalupe. How much she has become the image of Mary for all of us who live in this western hemisphere. She is not only the patroness of all our brothers and sisters in Mexico. She is truly the Mother and Protectress of the Americas, of all of us to whom she committed herself through the special gifts she bestowed on the simple Mexican peasant we now hail as St. Juan Diego.

This and every other feast and title regarding Mary rests always on that first Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. “When the time came, she brought forth her firstborn son and laid him in a manger ...” Scott Hahn in a beautiful little book, “Hail, Holy Queen,” has a chapter on that first Christmas night in which he says that “Mary’s motherhood is Eden revisited.” Thus Hahn follows a tradition that goes back to St. Paul who saw Jesus as the new Adam and thus Mary as the new Eve. He cites St. Justin Martyr, the great apologist of the second century, who presents the birth of Jesus as the reversal of what was brought about when the serpent tricked Eve into turning away from God. “Eve who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the Angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her.” Mary’s obedience reverses the disobedience of Eve and when her Son is born she brings into the world the Savior who can destroy death and restore the world to friendship with God and thus regain for us entrance into Paradise and eternal life.

The angels’ song becomes ours. The shepherds’ awe is mirrored in our eyes. The long search of the Magi is over. And all of us, without exception, all of us, as Pope St. Leo the Great insists, are made one and redeemed because the Virgin Mother, obedient to the Father, freely given to His will to fulfill His promise, bears salvation into the world.

We will begin the New Year with the oldest feast honoring Mary that the Church instituted universally, the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. What was proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus in 431 was transformed into a feast in which the Mass we offer proclaims what we believe so that what we believe informs what we proclaim. Thus our prayer is informed by our belief and our belief is strengthened by our prayer.

May we all be one in this season of beauty in welcoming once again into our hearts, Jesus the new born Son of Mary who is beauty personified because she radiates a life full of grace. “Truly blessed is she among women because blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus the Lord.”

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