Photo: Felix Carroll
In every age God raises up saints among his people. In His providential care for the human race, He chooses to give extraordinary graces to specially chosen souls. Sometimes these graces are quite remarkable. Saint Joseph Cupertino, for example, used to sometimes levitate while celebrating Holy Mass. No wonder he is invoked today as the patron of aviators! Saint Pio of Pietrelcina used to sometimes bilocate, appearing in more than one place at a time! He also bore the wounds of Christ in his own body as did St. Francis, St. Catherine, and many other saints. Then there are the countless miracles worked through the intercession of the saints: healings, resurrections, great conversions, and so on to the glory of God!
But if God raises up saints among his people, it is surely not for the benefit of the chosen souls alone, but also — praise God! — for the good of us all! Each saint bears witness before the world to the holiness of Almighty God, to the truth and goodness, innocence and beauty of His Divine Being. What a vocation! And, be assured, it includes small "s" saints like you and me, too!
This is all worth keeping in mind when we consider that one saint who stands out among all the others: Holy Mother Mary, the "most blessed" (Lk 1:42). In the Sacred Scriptures, the Mother of Jesus never levitated, never bilocated, never bore the physical wounds of Christ in her own body, never even performed any miracles. Yet, she is indeed "most blessed" because she heard and believed the Word of God, because she received and cherished it (see Lk 1:45, 11:28).
Mary's perfect openness to God "freed" God to work powerfully in her life. Not surprisingly, Mary was the object of some tremendous displays of divine power: She miraculously conceived and gave birth to Jesus, and, when her time on earth was completed, she was miraculously assumed into heaven where she was crowned with glory for her life of graced merit.
In fact, Mary's crowning by the Holy Trinity shows us beyond all doubt that God is true to those who are true to Him, beyond all expectation. But Mary is the beneficiary of yet another display of divine power that reveals God to us. It is the most amazing display of divine power in her life because, unlike the others, it happened without any participation on Mary's part. It is the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Mary is a true icon or image of grace. She is free from all stain of sin, even original sin, from the very first moment of her conception. This is so not by any merit of her own but by the pure grace of God alone. She is the one who, by God's design, is truly "full of grace" (Lk 1:28).
Mary's Immaculate Conception bears witness to God in a unique way. It reveals God's Divine Mercy in its profoundest expression. Divine Mercy is that splendid love of God that brings about our salvation from ruin, especially eternal ruin. In Mary, this Divine Mercy is realized in spectacular fashion. In fact, it defines her very being. She is the Immaculate Conception, the one who is saved by God most superbly because she is saved even from original sin. Rightly does she cry out: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior" (Lk 1:46). Above all men and women, she is filled with divine life and goodness, a holy one, a saint, having been made so by the One who is himself "Holy, Holy, Holy."
Like Mary, we, too, are called to receive God's mercy, a mercy that generously anticipates our need for forgiveness and healing. I can remember a time in my life when I seemed to be angry all the time, oftentimes without even realizing it. I found myself constantly criticizing other people and situations. Eventually, I took the matter to God in prayer and, with the help of a good spiritual director and an habitual examination of my conscience, I soon discovered that my "fight with the world" was rooted in an even greater "fight with myself." It was a case for Divine Mercy! Bit by bit, I realized that my earnest desire for perfection was causing havoc for my sense of self since, after all, I am not perfect! I was relating to God as though he were a light switch: "when I'm good, he loves me; when I'm bad, he doesn't" — on and off, on and off — all controlled by me and my behavior rather than by God and His ways.
Only by meaningfully considering who God is and what He has done for us was I able to move beyond my difficulties with anger. Sacred Scripture teaches us that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8) and that "God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8). God did not wait for me to be perfect to save me, to show his love for me, even to the point of dying for me. That's amazing mercy. It's mercy that is totally unearned and therefore particularly splendid, the kind of mercy that makes you want to laugh and say, "OK, God, I think I am beginning to get it. You act toward us not as we deserve but according to your own righteousness. Love and Mercy — it's who You are!"
No longer plagued by exaggerated internal stresses, I had come to discover that the truth really does set you free — even from anger (see Jn 8:32). None of this denies the fact that God does hold human beings accountable for their wrongdoing, but it puts our human efforts to please God into perspective. The context of our efforts is nothing other than the merciful love of God because, as St. Paul tells us, it is "in Him that we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us that God's basic disposition toward us is that we would all be saved, all totally filled with divine goodness, all come to possess the abundant life that God holds out to us in Christ (see 1 Tim 2:4, Jn 10:10).
The call to be open to God's mercy, inspired by Mary Immaculate, is important to keep in mind as we journey in our faith. Imagine watching a tennis match without knowing the rules or who the players are. Boring! Let's come to a greater appreciation of what God has done for us in Christ especially as this shines forth in the life of Mary from its very beginning and especially at those times when we are most in need of God's mercy.
Most of us are familiar with Michelangelo's Pieta, his beautiful sculpture depicting the Mary reverently holding the dead body of Jesus. One day, I found myself kneeling before a picture of the Pieta, meditating upon my sinfulness. I thought about how my sins contributed to the terrible abuse inflicted upon Jesus, the Son who is the dearly beloved not only of the Father but of Mary as well.
I know from faith that the Father is still willing to be my Father even though I have behaved so brutishly towards his Son. But I thought to myself, "What about Mary? Is she still be willing to be my mother?" I was feeling discouraged at the time, as though my sins had disqualified me from the honor of serving God in the ranks of his Immaculate One. When I prayed to Mary I imagined her saying these words to me: "Understand now the glory of your mother. Know that she is truly Full of Grace, the Immaculate One. I love you with the love with which I am filled, the love of God himself, the love which from the cross uttered words of indescribable mercy: 'Father, forgive them'" (Lk 23:34).
It is this indescribable mercy that we celebrate every Divine Mercy Sunday and every December 8th, the day we celebrate the Immaculate Conception. As we journey along in our faith, let us do so with Mary in our hearts. Assuredly, she will teach us how to receive and live Divine Mercy.
Fr. Michael Callea, MIC, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of Marians in May, 2002, and is currently based in Stockbridge, Mass., where he is coordinator of the Divine Mercy Apostolates.