The Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M. and the Jubilee Year of Mercy

There are many themes to dwell on today. We are in Advent, awaiting the incarnate Mercy of God: our Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is the feast of Mary’s conception: the first being created since the Fall without the stain of Original Sin on her soul, a unique and beautiful mercy shown her who was to be the Mother of God. And it is the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, with its call to experience anew the mercy of God and share that mercy with others.

You will find the web site for the Year of Mercy here. There is also a logo you will find displayed at various times:
Year of Mercy logoA search in the sidebar of this blog will reveal several entries for the Immaculate Conception, including a brief explanation of what the doctrine of the Church actually is here. What I want to think about this morning, however, is more general: the nature of mercy itself.

We all know that the word ‘mercy’ comes from the Old French merci (= thanks) and derives ultimately from the Latin merces (= reward) but I wonder whether we make the connection between showing mercy and ourselves being rewarded? We tend to think of mercy as being something the one who is shown mercy should be grateful for; and in the case of the mercy shown us by God, that is surely indisputable. But the mercy we show others? Do we ever recognize that being able to show mercy, being given the grace to show mercy, is something we should be equally grateful for, as it is a gift given to us — a reward we haven’t earned, a blessing we don’t deserve, a sharing in the joy of the jubilee.

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The Immaculate Conception and Ecumenism

Last year, in this blog post, I tried to explain, as simply as I could, what this feast is about. For days afterwards the monastery inbox was filled with questions about Catholic devotion to Our Lady and the scriptural basis of the various doctrines attached to her name. What struck me was the amount of sheer ignorance about Marian doctrine even among those who were theologically well-read. It was not malicious ignorance, it wasn’t intentional in any way; it just was; and it reminded me that there is often a huge gulf in perception between, say, Catholics and Orthodox on the one hand, and ‘everyone else’ — a gross simplification, for which I apologize, but I don’t know how else to express it.

I wonder whether it is this kind of gulf that, practically speaking, that makes ecumenical understanding quite arduous at times. Despite the ancient division between us, Catholics and Orthodox have an understanding that goes beyond words. We’re like old cousins who share the same family history and can be comfortable with each other, even though we have gone along divergent paths. If pressed, we’ll stand together, even if at other times we have the most unholy scraps. There is not always the same ease with members of other Churches. It isn’t liturgical custom or ritual which matters so much as that shared belief which underpins and shapes the liturgy itself.

I know I have not put this very well, and speed readers in particular may take great offence at what they think I am saying, but this feast of Our Lady is a good one on which to ask a fundamental question about Christian unity. I think we often have different understandings and different expectations. Because we already share so much we can be inclined to minimalize the differences. Early in the new year we shall again be dedicating an octave of prayer to attaining the unity for which Christ prayed. It is not too early to start asking ourselves whether we are praying for what Christ prayed, or something else.

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