A statue of the Blessed Mother is seen in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Maple Shade. Joe Moore photo
A statue of the Blessed Mother is seen in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Maple Shade. Joe Moore photo

As a boy in Catholic school, the solemn feast of the Immaculate Conception – a holy day of obligation –was not only a “day off” from school but also a reminder that Christmas was not far away.  I doubt that I ever thought more deeply about the meaning of the feast at that time, but I knew it was important and I always looked forward to it.  I still do, but for a few more profound reasons that I suggest are worth our consideration as Catholics throughout the world celebrate this holy day of obligation.

Never had our world heard better news than that spoken by the Angel Gabriel to an innocent Jewish maiden, barely a teenager, in the Gospel from St. Luke proclaimed on the Solemn Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Centuries of longing of the Chosen People of God came to an end as the Angel announced to Mary, "Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you (Luke 1:28)."  That greeting recognized that the Virgin Mary, "blessed among all women," was truly and uniquely "full of grace," that no sin could exist in her – ever – from the very first moment of her own conception, which the Church calls her "Immaculate Conception."  And so, she alone was worthy to welcome the Angel's words, "the Lord is with you."  
That is how the Church has come to understand the Incarnation, the "Word become flesh and dwelling among us."  She who was always without the blemish of original sin as introduced to us in the Book of Genesis – the story of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden – she who was always without the fault of Adam and Eve was destined to be the Immaculate Mother of God.  "You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son to be called Jesus, who will be the great Son of God (Luke 1:31)!"

Visiting with her cousin Elizabeth who, now in her advanced age, was also miraculously with a child who leapt in her womb as the Angel spoke, the little girl Mary wondered what was going on: "How can this be since I have no relations with a man."  And the Angel explained to her the power of God and the action of the Holy Spirit within her.  "Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)."  That is the sentence, the statement we must embrace in faith, the way that Mary did: "Let it be done to me as you say (Luke 1:38)."

The Immaculate Conception of Mary was the pathway which led to the conception of her own Son, Jesus.  Being first "graced" by God before her birth, she would give birth to the source and fulfillment of all "grace," the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High, the Promised Messiah and Savior of the World, the "Word made Flesh who would dwell among us (John 1:14)."  There is no better news that could be told.  

And yet, the Gospel story chosen for the Solemn Feast is only the beginning, the first and best evidence that "nothing is impossible with God." On so many levels, the grace-filled story that defines us as Christians is inconceivable, impossible for the human mind alone to grasp. And yet, the One who WAS INCONCEIVABLY CONCEIVED in Mary's immaculate womb makes all things possible, even things we consider impossible.  Grace alone does this; grace alone makes faith in the impossible, possible; and faith alone takes our sinful humanity and sees in our flesh the redemption and mercy of God in Christ.  
"In him," the Letter to the Ephesians reminds us, we "were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish in his sight (Ephesians 1:4)." That is what grace accomplishes in us.  That is what faith enables us to believe. That is how and why Mary said "yes" to the Angel Gabriel's good news of God's incarnate mercy to the world.  In this sense, we can say that Mary is the Mother of Mercy as we often pray, especially in the Rosary: “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy: Our Life, Our Sweetness and Our Hope.”

In the Holy Season of Advent, on the Solemn Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of Mercy, the Catholic Church offers all believers, in the Holy Father Pope Francis’ words, the opportunity for "a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God ... a living experience of the closeness of the Father whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and be a testimony to it, ever more effective (Letter On The Jubilee of Mercy, September 1, 2015)."

Look deeply into your hearts and souls and remember what grace and faith and God's mercy tell us, "Nothing is impossible with God:" not forgiveness of the darkest sin, not healing of the deepest hurt, not separation from those furthest away or who should be closest to us, not even the troubles that strangle our planet, our world, our communities, our families or ourselves.  "Nothing is impossible with God."  
With faith like that of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, pray to the merciful Father of us all for what He, alone, makes possible, and then respond to God and to those possibilities: "Let it be done to me as you say."