I hardly know where to start when I think of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I will begin with my first catechism of the subject. I think back to December of 1998 — when I was going through OCIA to join the Catholic Church. The first 33 years of my life were formed in the Southern Baptist tradition. I was accustomed to Mary coming out with the Christmas creche and quickly being put away again soon after Christmas. We might mention Mary at the foot of the cross at Easter. In December of 1998, I was asked to consider something new — that Mary was conceived without Original Sin — the sin that Adam and Eve brought upon their offspring and for all generations to follow. I was already raised in the belief that Mary was a Virgin and Jesus was Virgin born. It really seems simple when you ponder the perfection of God. He doesn’t leave things half done. Jesus was to be born without sin and we know he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit — divine — of God. This points to a sinless Mother. From Genesis and the fall of man, God laid out his plan of redemption. It is only logical that God prepares the perfect vessel — a perfect Mother for a perfect Son. Could Jesus have been born free of sin if his mother was not born free of sin? It was no leap for me to understand and believe it so — Mary, born without sin. In my OCIA class, we were asked to write a few lines of verse, poem, or story that would be my description of Mary. I wrote the first four lines in class and completed the poem later.
Blessed Mary, the new Eve.
In your womb, you would conceive
God’s most precious gift to mankind.
Born of a Virgin, His own Son,
Blessed Mary, Full of Grace.
When you kissed the baby Jesus’ face,
A mother’s love kissed us all.
Adopted children of God, we answered
Blessed Mary, handmaid of the Lord.
Arms that once cradled the tiny baby Jesus,
Now cradle His body, broken, and pierced
by a sword.
Reflect upon your girlhood vow
“May it be done according to Your Word.”
Holy Mary, Mother of the Church.
Pray for us, adopted children seeking
Please cradle our prayers close to your heart
And place them at the feet of our Savior.
Dec. 9, 1998
In the Summer if 1999, I was researching Franciscan vocations and found myself looking into life as a Third Order Secular Franciscan. I began attending meetings at the Immaculate Conception Fraternity which was meeting monthly at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Atlanta. Okay. If you read my reflection on Sacred Heart, you will know this is the first Catholic church I ever walked into back in June 1989. This was also the church where our Neophyte Mass was held after I’d joined the Catholic church. God has such a sense of humor. So what if the Baptist publication house didn’t want to publish my reflection on Sacred Heart. My perspective is much better now from the inside looking out rather than the outside looking in. Back to the Secular Franciscan (SFO) story — I had approached the fraternity for inquiry and before long there were twelve of us. We eventually moved our fraternity home to St. Philip Benizi in Jonesboro. After a little over two years in formation, our group was ready to make our permanent professions. December 8th, 2002 fell on a Sunday and we were professed at the 5PM Life Teen Mass.
So, we each said with our own name —
I, “Stfrancisgirl”, by the grace of God, renew my baptismal promises
and consecrate myself to the service of his Kingdom.
Therefore, in my secular state, I promise to live all the days of my life
the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order
by observing its rule of life.
May the grace of the Holy Spirit, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary
and our holy father St. Francis, and the fraternal bonds of community
always be my help,
so that I may reach the goal of perfect Christian love.
–from the Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order
And so, on this December 8, 2008, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is the 6th Anniversary of my profession in the Secular Franciscan Order — with the Immaculate Conception Fraternity. Our parish was also decorated for the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary is everywhere… I hope you are having a very thoughtful and prayerful Advent season.