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Mary’s Wild Tranquility

Note: Today’s feast, the Immaculate Conception, refers to the conception of the Virgin Mary (not, as is sometimes thought, to Christ’s conception at the Annunciation). But Archbishop Sheen, perhaps better than anyone else, explains here why a woman conceived without sin was necessary to salvation. A reminder: I’ll be on EWTN “The World Over” this evening in a taped panel discussion with former USCCB President Joseph Kurtz about Amoris Laetitia (consult local listings for rebroadcasts.) – Robert Royal

Every civilization has had a tradition of a golden age in the past. A more precise Jewish record tells of a fall from a state of innocence and happiness through a woman tempting a man. If a woman played such a role in the fall of mankind, should she not play a great role in its restoration? And if there was a lost Paradise in which the first nuptials of man and woman were celebrated, might there not be a new Paradise in which the nuptials of God and man would be celebrated?

In the fullness of time an Angel of Light came down from the great Throne of Light to a Virgin kneeling in prayer, to ask her if she was willing to give God a human nature. Her answer was that she “knew not man” and, therefore, could not be the mother of the “Expected of the Nations.” There never can be a birth without love. In this the maiden was right.

The begetting of new life requires the fires of love. But besides the human passion which begets life, there is the “passionless passion and wild tranquility” of the Holy Spirit; and it was this that overshadowed the woman and begot in her Emmanuel or “God with us.”

At the moment that Mary pronounced Fiat or “Be it done,” something greater happened than the Fiat lux (“Let there be light”) of creation; for the light that was now made was not the sun, but the Son of God in the flesh. By pronouncing Fiat Mary achieved the full role of womanhood, namely, to be the bearer of God’s gifts to man.

There is a passive receptiveness in which woman says Fiat to the cosmos as she shares its rhythm, Fiat to a man’s love as she receives it, and Fiat to God as she receives the Spirit. . . .

There is an undetermined element in human love. The parents do not know whether the child will be a boy or a girl, or the exact time of its birth, for conception is lost in some unknown night of love. Children are later accepted and loved by their parents, but they were never directly willed into being by them.

But in the Annunciation, the Child was not accepted in any unforeseen way; the Child was willed. There was a collaboration between a woman and the Spirit of Divine Love. The consent was voluntary under the Fiat; the physical cooperation was freely offered by the same word.

Immaculate Conception by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1632 [National Art Museum of Catalonia]
Immaculate Conception by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1632 [National Art Museum of Catalonia]

Other mothers become conscious of motherhood through physical changes within them; Mary became conscious through a spiritual change wrought by the Holy Spirit. She probably received a spiritual ecstasy far greater than that given to man and woman in their unifying act of love. As the fall of man was a free act, so too the Redemption had to be free.

What is called the Annunciation was actually God asking the free consent of a creature to help Him to be incorporated into humanity. Suppose a musician in an orchestra freely strikes a sour note. The conductor is competent, the music is correctly scored and easy to play, but the musician still exercises his freedom by introducing a discord which immediately passes out into space.

The director can do one of two things: he can either order the selection to be replayed, or he can ignore the discord. Fundamentally, it makes no difference which he does, for that false note is traveling out into space at the rate of more than a thousand feet per second; and as long as time endures, there will be discord in the universe. Is there any way to restore harmony to the world?

It can be done only by someone coming in from eternity and stopping the note in its wild flight. But will it still be a false note? The harmony can be destroyed on one condition only. If that note is made the first note in a new melody, then it will become harmonious.

This is precisely what happened when Christ was born. There had been a false note of moral discord introduced by the first man which infected all humanity. God could have ignored it, but it would have been a violation of justice for Him to do so, which is, of course, unthinkable.

What He did, therefore, was to ask a woman, representing humanity, freely to give Him a human nature with which He would start a new humanity. As there was an old humanity in Adam, so there would be a new humanity in Christ, Who was God made man through the free agency of a human mother.

When the angel appeared to Mary, God was announcing this love for the new humanity. It was the beginning of a new earth, and Mary became “a flesh-girt Paradise to be gardened by the Adam new.” As in the first garden Eve brought destruction, so in the garden of her womb, Mary would now bring Redemption.

For the nine months that He was cloistered within her, all the food, the wheat, the grapes that she consumed served as a kind of natural Eucharist, passing into Him Who later on was to declare that He was the Bread and the Wine of Life. After her nine months were over, the fitting place for Him to be born was Bethlehem, which meant “House of Bread.”

When the Divine Child was conceived, Mary’s humanity gave Him hands and feet, eyes and ears, and a body with which to suffer. Just as the petals of a rose after a dew close on the dew as if to absorb its energies, so too, Mary as the Mystical Rose closed upon Him Whom the Old Testament had described as a dew descending upon the earth.

When finally she did give Him birth, it was as if a great ciborium had opened, and she was holding in her fingers the Guest Who was also the Host of the world, as if to say, “Look, this is the Lamb of God; look, this is He Who takes away the sins of the world.”

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Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Fulton John Sheen was born in El Paso, Illinois on May 8, 1895. He attended Saint Paul Seminary in Minnesota and was ordained in 1919. After further studies at Catholic University, he earned a doctorate in philosophy at Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven. In 1930 Sheen began a Sunday night radio show, “The Catholic Hour, and in 1951 then Bishop Sheen launched “Life Is Worth Living,” which became one of America’s top-rated TV shows and won him an Emmy in 1952. He was elevated to archbishop by Pope Paul VI in 1969. He died on December 9, 1979, and is buried in the crypt of St. Patrick's Cathedral. He was declared a Venerable Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI on July 28th 2012.