The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at St Peter Church in Naples, FL

Genesis 3, 9-15, 20 – Psalm 98 – Ephesians 1, 3-6, 11-12 – Luke 1, 26-38 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL.

While this feast is certainly and obviously about the Blessed Mother and God’s favor toward her, the older I get and the more often I join the church in celebrating this feast, the more I am beginning to see that it is much more than our response to a dogmatic expression of a fundamental tenant of our faith: that Mary was Immaculate and conceived without sin in order to give flesh to the Word of God.

What is gradually dawning on me, and what I would encourage you to reflect upon as we make this day “holy” by interrupting our usual weekday routine to gather as Church is that this Feast is really about vocation, about God’s call not just to Mary, but to us all. It is, in the end, about our response to God’s call to give flesh to and make visible the Word of God. In other words, today is not just about Mary, it is about vocations and it proposes that we pay attention to our own vocation and how we respond. To do that, the church puts Mary before us as a model and example of how one ought to respond to what God asks of us.

Mary is not the only member of the human family with a vocation. She is not the only member of the human family to which God has come asking us to give life to his Son, to give flesh and blood for the sake of his presence. This is ultimately the vocation that every one of us has received in this life. Somehow in each unique way we are all asked by God to give life to his son and bring the Word to life again. Husbands and Wives in their vocation to marriage give a flesh and blood, heart and soul presence of God to each other and to all of us as their commitment makes real God’s promise to remain with us always in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. Then if called to the vocation of parenting, these same models of love and openness to God are entrusted with life and the vocation of bringing that life into the presence of God as they teach and form their children in Gospel living. Young people in their vocation as disciples of Jesus give flesh and blood to the Word of God by their youthful energy and joy. Their openness to the Holy Spirit guides them in the use of their gifts exploring and growing in love and passion, zeal and openness to God’s call to service and commitment. Single people either those not called to marriage or those who have fulfilled until death their vocation as a husband or wife are also still called to give flesh and make real the presence of Christ. Their “yes” to whatever God asks or to where ever God leads is learned from the model of Mary who said “yes” to the unexpected and perhaps the not-too-welcome news brought by an angel. In their lives there is still a call to discipleship and stewardship, to service, sacrifice and prayer.

Paul in his letter to the Ephesians understood this and we heard his words to that community as he confirms that we have every spiritual blessing in the heavens. It is not just Mary Immaculate who have every spiritual blessing. He continues to insist that we are chosen from the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in God’s sight.

What more does it take for us to realize that on this feast, the Blessed Mother is the model and example of how to respond to the call God has made to us all?  To push her off on a pedestal as a way of excusing ourselves from responding with a firm “yes” to whatever God asks of us or puts before us a shameful betrayal of the faith into which we have been born. This feast then turns the story back on us. You don’t need angel to know that God is calling you. You simply need to look around and see where God is absent and step into the void. Where there is hatred, hunger, loneliness, sadness, and emptiness, where there is need for forgiveness and for peace, where God’s mercy is unknown and never experienced, we must go. This is not some complicated theology. It is the simple reality of our faith and the vocation we have because of it. Will you go? Will you be there? Will you stay there? Today’s feast encourages us to respond.

Father Tom Boyer