Immaculate Conception at the Heart of the Church
Though the phrase "Immaculate Conception" may sound to many like an esoteric doctrine pertinent only to those with a theology degree, this Church teaching lies at the center of our Catholic faith and at the heart of the spirituality of the Marian Fathers.
Pope Pius IX explained it best on Dec. 8, 1854, when he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception official Church dogma, saying: [quote]The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.[/quote]Though Eve was created without the stain of original sin, she said "no" to doing God's will. As a result, sin and death entered the world. Millennia later, God gave the world another chance. He created another woman without the stain of original sin. Our Lady said "yes" to God. And never stopped saying "yes" to Him.
On Dec. 8, 2018, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In his homily, the Very Rev. Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, the provincial superior of the Marian Fathers, emphasized how much the world needs the Immaculate Conception right now.
"The Church celebrates this extraordinary day because it is not only what we do to honor Our Lady, but the Church celebrates its own day of recreation," he said. "What Mary received in a unique way, we receive — all of us — through the gift of Baptism."
Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we become like Our Lady, free from the stain of original sin and more able to say "yes" to doing God's will.
Unfortunately, many in our modern world do not even believe in spiritual realities like Heaven or hell, never mind the Immaculate Conception. As a result, they miss out on so much of God's grace. "The truth is we have to remind our brothers and sisters that there is something beyond the grave. There's Heaven on the one side and Hell on the other side," Fr. Kaz said.
Lack of belief in spiritual realities has had dire consequences. "Our society continues to abort its children and attempt to redefine marriage. The United States is not that far behind Europe in terms of losing our Christian identity as a nation," said Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, who serves as "Fr. Joseph, MIC," the honorary title given to the director of the Association of Marian Helpers. He said, "The Immaculate Conception is the answer and the way for us to find our own way to God."
Thankfully, God has given the world a spiritual congregation dedicated to honoring the Immaculate Conception and spreading devotion to her. "Our founder St. Stanislaus Papczynski, when he spoke of the Immaculate Conception, he spoke of it being the strength and joy of every Marian vocation," Fr. Kaz said.
That congregation continues to grow. As many diocese and religious orders in the United States struggle to attract vocations, the Marians have more than 30 men in formation, more than most dioceses.
Seminarian Br. Jeff, MIC, is discerning a call to the Marians because, like Fr. Kaz and Fr. Chris, he believes that the mystery of the Immaculate Conception is destroying evil. "The Immaculate Conception represents the triumph of God over Satan," Br. Jeff said. "Unique probably to any other order, the Marians have a predestined role in bringing about the end of Satan and sin. If the Immaculate Conception is our very identity, then that would suggest that out of our order should come some of the greatest saints who will ever live. It's up to us to respond to that grace."
Though the Marians have a specific call to honoring and promoting the Immaculate Conception, as Catholics we all have that call.
"We have inherited this gift to continue to proclaim Immaculate Conception as truly a gift of God to humanity. We have received this gift, not just for our community, but all who associate with us," Fr. Kaz said.
On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, let's keep the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in our prayers, and use this day as an opportunity to say "yes" to God even more consistently in our daily lives, as Our Lady did.