Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Challenge of Immaculate Conception (second draft)

When I was in college, I discovered volumes of "Soup for the Soul" books neatly stacked in a shelf of our library. I made a promise that I would not leave the university without devouring all of them. But on to the third volume, I've grown tired reading them. And the plot of the stories—whether they may be real or otherwise—seemed to be rather formulaic, they seem to be so predictable. It dawned on me that I don't settle for any tales that melt my heart. I need also something that nurtures my coconut.

A couple of months ago, here in the novitiate, I came across a book that has both: it was both heart warming, and intellectually stimulating. The novel entitled "For one more day" is about a son and her deceased mother. It explores the question: What would you do if you could spend one more day with a lost loved one?

The main protagonist did what he was supposed to do when he saw his dead mom who sprang back to life on the very day he wanted to end his.

Both of them knew the strange situation they were in. But death is such a taboo topic in a family. No child is supposed to ask his parents "Hi mom, why are you preparing my breakfast? We buried you already!" And so, he went on to enjoy his life again with his mom, if only for one more day.

What follows is the one "ordinary" day so many of us yearn for, a chance to make good with a lost parent, to explain the family secrets, and to seek forgiveness. Somewhere between this life and the next, he learns the astonishing things he never knew about his mother and her sacrifices. And he tries, with her tender guidance, to put the crumbled pieces of his life back together.

Historical background

Preparing for this sermonette on the occasion of the Immaculate Conception, I thought it wise to trace the historical development of this Church doctrine.

I was not aware of it but the doctrine on Immaculate Conception was heavily debated by theologians during the Middle Ages. Dominican teachers and preachers vigorously—headed by the Angelic Doctor himself—opposed the doctrine, maintaining that it detracted from Christ the role of "universal savior."

Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan, defended it, establishing in 1477 a feast of the Immaculate Conception with a proper mass and office to be celebrated on December 8. He did not define the doctrine as a dogma, thus leaving Roman Catholics freedom to believe in it or not without being accused of heresy.

The doctrine was finally defined as a dogma binding on Catholics by Pope Pius IX in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus, asserting that Mary was preserved from the effects of Original Sin from the first moment of her conception.

Looking at this piece of Church history, I realized how awesome the story of Immaculate Conception is. And I believe that God himself wrote the plot of the story of the Immaculate Conception. He authored it to show His might and to emphasize that He can do the impossible. It is a promise fulfilled in the life of the Blessed Mother, and it is a reality that awaits us when we meet Him finally one day.

The evolving historical drama of the Immaculate Conception is not solely about the Blessed Mother. As her children, we are all part of her story.

Yes, it took Him the act of choosing somebody from the human race to show how serious He is with His promise that He loves us, and that He could even adjust the boundaries He set to prove this. He willed to prevent a human being from being stained by sin in order to get across his message that it is all the more possible for Him to cleanse us.

Our response

Seeing the glory of God behind the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, let me invite each of you to reflect and ask ourselves as regards how have we professed our faith in Him?

Particularly in those times when we are pushed against our limits, when we are black and blue because of the many disappointments and failures, and especially when the people we love the most seem not to be found to provide us comfort. Can we still manage to kneel down before the Blessed Sacrament, and ask Him not only for strength but to assure him that He is our glory?

Let this great event of the Immaculate Conception gently assure us of His words "I'll never leave you. I'll be with you until the end of this world."

The saga of the Blessed Mother is not a one-time epic. The story of the Immaculate Conception goes on. I'd say that it has a plot longer and meatier than that of Mahabharata because it is a story that still needs to see its conclusion. And I hope that when the story comes to an end, all of us can proudly say that we have contributed something by following the life of faith of the Blessed Mother.