The Marian imperative
The Catholic Church celebrates Dec. 8 as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Church believes that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from the inclination to sin from her conception as a precursor to her acceptance of her role in the Divine Incarnation. “The Word was made flesh; and dwelt among us.” God assumed the created human form to affirm His Presence in every human being, through a human being. Emmanuel, God in and within us, is thus forever declared as the essence of human reality.
The imperative of Mary’s immaculate conception proceeds from the unique experience she was to go through as humankind’s testament to God’s constant Presence. Absolute grace was needed by her for a life transcending the world from conception. Her fiat, “Be it done unto me…”, would not have been possible if she had the slightest tint of self-centeredness. Her acceptance of and total surrender to her mission were a special grace and gift from the Creator for humankind to see and experience divine union.
The relationship with God is intimately personal. It is to each and every human being that God establishes a relationship beginning from each one’s conception. There must be a “Mary” in each one that can lead to one’s decision to accept the Truth of Emmanuel. With the gift of choice, one can declare “Be it done unto me…” like Mary did. We may not have the grace of the immaculate conception, but we all have the gift of choice to say “yes” to the call. We all are called to do and continue Mary’s mission.
The world is experiencing today a pandemic that has not been experienced since 1918, when the so-called Spanish flu killed an estimated 50 million people. There are over 60 million cases of COVID-19 in the world to date and 1.5 million deaths. It is claimed to have started in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, a full year ago. It is now in 218 countries. Vaccines are now reported to have been successfully tested and are planned to be distributed globally in the coming months. Control over the virus may be in sight. The impact of the pandemic, however, continues to be disruptive of human and societal lives. There is much suffering, pain, and death.
Christmas this year cannot be celebrated as usual. Perhaps, it is finally a time to reflect on the true reason for the season: The baby Jesus Christ in a humble stable, on a manger with His mother Mary and foster father Joseph. They were declined shelter in their time of need. In humility, Mary, with Joseph, brought forth her Son and the message of divinity present in everyone. He was totally present in her. She testifies to this truth. Whatever we do to the least around us, we do to them. That should be our Christmas in this time of COVID-19.
Our Blessed Virgin Mary, The Immaculate Conception, is the Patroness of the Philippines, still the only predominantly Catholic Christian country in Asia. The Philippines is commemorating the 500th year of the arrival of Christianity in March next year, 2021. On March 16, 1521, the expedition of Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan from Spain landed in Limasawa Island in Southern Leyte. This may have started the systemic colonial structure that is pervasive in Philippine society until today. But it likewise introduced the transcendent reality of life from the Christian perspective that needs to govern the reality of the world. Only in the example of Mary Immaculate do transcendence and the world unite. There is no dichotomy. That is the challenge to every human being: Be whole in the truth of oneness with the Creator.
The suffering and pain of Mary Immaculate as the Mother of Jesus are united with the suffering and pain of Jesus on the Cross. Her life in the mystery associated with divine motherhood was not an easy life. Only absolute grace could have rationalized her acceptance of the experience. She had to live her life in order for many others to believe that they, too, can spread the message of Emmanuel—God is with us.
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Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now a business consultant.