Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M. 2019

Murillo: The Immaculate Conception
Murillo: The Immaculate Conception

The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one I seem to have written about in most years. In 2011, for example, I tried to explain as simply as possible what the feast is and what it is not, and the theology that lies behind it. You can read that post here. I make no apologies for its being rather dry (though it does end with some lovely lines from Hopkins). Since then I have mused on different aspects of the feast, on Marian devotion in general and its unfortunate tendency to inspire bad art, and my own irritation with the syrup that obscures the real strength of Mary as the pre-eminent mulier fortis.

This morning, however, with storm clouds intensifying the darkness of our Herefordshire skies, I think of Mary as an image of the silence that lies at the heart of our Advent observance. She heard; she obeyed; and she pondered. Luke’s account of the Annunciation (Lk 1. 26–38) does not say that she did not question, in fact, rather the reverse. She asked the biggest question of all, ‘How can this be?’ Our Advent silence isn’t the silence of zombies, of those who think that to become holy is to become less human. Mary reminds us that every quality of mind and heart is necessary. Silence, too, is necessary because it is only in silence that we can overcome the superficial clamour of our lives. It is in silence that the Word takes shape and form and is born upon earth and in time.

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Hardness of Heart

Although I’m sure that none of my readers is afflicted with hardness of heart, we all know someone who is — stony, unkind, unforgiving, exactly the kind of person one doesn’t want to be with. The hard of heart tend to interpret everything someone else does or says in the same warped way. Don’t like the pope? Then every word and deed is treated with contempt. No time for politicians? Then cynicism and denigration rule the day. Been nursing a grudge against someone? Then that person is the object of fear and loathing quite disproportionate to the original offence. The trouble is, if we go looking for the hard of heart, we have to begin with the face that stares back at us in the mirror. Yes, our own hardness of heart is the one we really have to bother about, and the only one we can realistically hope to change.

One of the graces of Advent is the way in which it urges us to allow God into our lives, to break down our protective carapaces, to let the ground of our being be softened with his life-giving dew. The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception contains a lot of difficult theology expressed through images we can all grasp, from the sin of Adam to that wonderful moment when Mary said ‘yes’ to God at the Annunciation and in so doing set in train the events that reversed the effects of sin and death. Can we apply that to our own lives? Can we open ourselves to God so completely? Is there perhaps some pocket of unforgiveness, some refusal to reconcile with another, that we need to do something about? Forgiveness sets both forgiver and forgiven free, but it takes courage and a willingness to be misunderstood, laughed at, treated with contempt. The hard of heart cannot bend, cannot change, cannot allow God into their lives. No wonder hardness of heart is so deadly!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail