I had a theology professor who used to call this feast the “Innacurate Misconception,” not because he didn’t believe in it, but because most people don’t understand what we celebrate in it. Of course it is about Mary’s own sinlessness. Lumen Gentium says that we celebrate Mary as free “from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature,” and the Catechism teaches that by “the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.” The words “by the grace of God” are very, very important there.
Today’s gospel reading (Mt 7:21, 24-27) was perfect for us in Big Sur, but we have to add some words: The rains fell, the floods came, and the winds blew… then the rocks fell and the road closed! But the road we are really trying to open and keep open is the road to the heart, to the ground of our being. Jesus says that ‘It is not everyone who cries “Lord, Lord” who will enter the reign of God’ but only those who do the will of God. And then he associates that will of God with listening to his words, and we need to build our house upon a rock, and that rock is his words, his Word, the Word, the Logos.
I had to preach last Saturday, the last day of the liturgical year. I find it sort of ironic in a calendar year such as this one that right after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, when the world sort of encourages gluttony and greed, that we get led up to the end of the church year with all these sober warnings to be alert and watchful, and not to engage in drunkenness and carousing. It’s kind of like Mardi Gras! Actually, if we hadn’t started singing different songs and antiphons that evening and changed the color of our vestments the next day, you would hardly have noticed us ending one liturgical year and beginning a new one with a new season, because we started Advent right where we left off––talking about sobriety and the end times. I’ve been attracted to the idea that we’re not really talking about the end of the world; we’re just talking about the end of time, or perhaps even more accurately, the fullness of time. “World without end, Amen!” we pray; our proper end, as I keep being fascinated with, is a new heaven and a new earth. The Holy Father spoke about this the other day in a way that corroborated this way of thinking. Yes, he said, the Earth is deformed by sin and this world shall pass away. “However, God promised a new dwelling place and a new Earth is being prepared,” as a matter of fact, a new heaven and a new earth! Then he quoted Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium: “In this new world, justice will abide and God shall answer and quench humans’ longing for peace. And so this end of the world is not actually a destruction of the world but rather a transformation to a new truthful and beautiful universe… not an annihilation of the universe and all that surrounds us, rather it brings everything to its fullness of being, truth and beauty.” Not destruction but transformation; not annihilation but fullness, fulfillment! That’s quite a vision filled with hope, and I think the Christian mystical vision at its most refined.