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A Homily on the Immaculate Conception

Just as sin disconnects us from God, Jesus comes to connect us with Him again, by taking us out of hiding and into the presence of His Father. In this blog, Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB explains that this is done first of all - and most clearly of all - in Mary, who was saved from sin at conception.

Immaculate Conception

Cut off from God, we die

“Come, Lord Jesus! Come, and save us! Come and set us free!” This is what we pray in Advent. We call on Christ to come and save us. Christ saves us from two things, sin and death.

Sin is turning away from God. “Where are you?” God asks Adam. He’s no longer in the place God had set him. He’s no longer, in a sense, visible to God. He’s not in his presence.  “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid”. He had gone into hiding. This is sin. Sin disconnects from God. It’s like taking the plug out of the wall and losing the flow of electricity. Disconnect a laptop from the mains and it will run for a while on its battery. But in the end the battery will die. The screen will blank. And access to the internet will be lost. There’ll be no more communication with others. Or imagine our planet stopped orbiting the sun. It would just spin away into darkness. If we turn away from God, if we lose sight of him, we start to lose sight of ourselves and others, something starts to collapse inside us. We fragment. We revert to chaos. We’re no longer ourselves. We fall out with others. We find ourselves alone. Eventually we implode. And death – going into the dark – is a kind of outward sign of all of this. It’s the last working out of sin.

Jesus comes to save us from death

“Come, Lord Jesus! Come and save us!”

Our Lord has come. He does come. He will come. He comes to reconnect us. “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence”. “And the Lord God called to him, ‘Where are you?’” Our Lord comes to take us out of hiding and into the presence of his Father. He comes to connect us again. He makes us one again in ourselves, and with one another. The electricity of grace flows into us, the screen lights up with the light of faith, we can connect with others (charity). He comes to form a new network, a new humanity, his mystical Body. And so taking away our sin, he takes away our death. We will still physically die – the old world has to run its course in each of us – but dying in Christ is a passing over to eternal happiness in the communion of saints, and that eternal happiness will be completed at the end of time by the resurrection of the body. As St Bernard put it:

“Christ takes possession of the whole man (person): he created the whole man, he redeemed the whole man and he will glorify the whole man.”

In Mary, her Son anticipates our salvation

And so, like the angel in the Gospel, we come to Mary. And we say, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” By the eternal will of the eternal Father what he wants to do in all of us, he does first of all and most of all, most clearly of all, in Mary, the predestined Mother of his Son.

Our Lord saves us from sin and from death. And first of all and most of all, most radiantly of all, he saves Mary, his Mother and the Image of the Church. So in Advent, in the cold and dark, we celebrate her Immaculate Conception, her salvation from sin. It’s God’s spring in the middle of Nature’s winter, a sign winter is already deeply defeated. And in August, at the height of summer, we feast her Assumption, her victory over death. Christ saves us from sin through the Cross, he saves us from death through his Resurrection. And it’s in Mary, first of all and most of all, that Jesus’s Cross and Resurrection work their magic, have their full effect, do their job. “It is finished/accomplished” were Jesus’s last words on the Cross. And his Mother was standing by.

In every saint, in the good and holy people we know, and in Mary first and most of all, we see the salvation of God. We see God’s plan for us, what we are called to be, what the Church is: humanity no longer in hiding but living through love in his presence. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

God wants to bring his marvels to completion in us too

“Come, Lord Jesus! Come and save us!” The Advent prayer is answered already today.

Mary was preserved from original sin from her very conception. She received the Holy Spirit, the fruit of Christ’s Paschal mystery. She was clothed with the garments of salvation. In her God the Father, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob answered the long yearnings of Israel to be pure, to stand before God, to be his holy people. In her he built the Temple he would fill with the presence of his Son. He placed her already, unawares, in Christ, so that when the angel came with the message of the Incarnation, she would be ready. When the heavens would look down, the earth would open up. There would be a perfect receptivity. And so the door of faith – porta fidei – did indeed swing open. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

The marvels God works in Mary, he is working in us, and wants to more and more. The one plan of God the Father, the one death and resurrection of Christ, the one Holy Spirit involves, embraces, overshadows Mary and each and all of us. We are all caught up in the same epic of grace, the same love story. We shouldn’t think of Mary as remote, set on a pedestal. She’s at the heart of things. She’s the most connected of us all because she’s the most redeemed. She’s very close. Her salvation from sin and death is like a great space we can enter too, and there in our measure receive the same grace.

She’s in heaven. We are on earth, still struggling along. But together with her, and with the whole Advent Church, we cry out, “Come Lord Jesus! Come and save us!”, completely confident we’ll be heard.


Words for the Advent & Christmas SeasonThis blog is extracted from our ebook Words for the Advent & Christmas Season. This collection of Bishop Hugh Gilbert’s homilies for the Advent and Christmas season are an ideal companion to these wonderful seasons of hope and joy.