Monday, December 7, 2009

Wait, Is Today about Jesus or Mary?

Last week, a phone call: It's my mom. She's got a friend who has to give a talk the next day about the Immaculate Conception. And she wanted to make sure -- we're not talking about the conception of Jesus here, are we?

Nope. The feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the conception of Mary. The doctrine is that given the holiness of Jesus, Mary must have been born without sin.

Right. That's what she thought. Bye, hon.

Five minutes later, she calls again: Ok, so, she was also wondering, does that mean Joachim and Anne never had sex?

You'd think so, since in olden times (i.e. 1959) we seemed to think that original sin was transmitted somehow through sex. But no, it's not a virgin birth. Anne and Joachim were more than really good friends.

But it's immaculate, she asks.

Yep. Without sin.

A long pause.

Ok.... Well, thanks, hon. I'll tell her.

She hangs up. I go back to work.

Isn't this a great version? Check out more art by this artist.

And then a couple minutes later, I get this visual of her talking to her friend, and each of them is sitting on their end of the phone, shaking the head and saying, "Yeah, I don't get it either."

So I stopped to think about it. What is it we're really talking about? It's not about sex. (OK, of course it's about sex, and the church's association of sex with sin. Of course it's about that. But it's not just about sex.) It's not a celebration of something that we find in the scriptures. Nowhere do they talk about Mary as being without sin, let alone being immaculately conceived. Nowhere. This idea came out of the community of believers, long after Mary was gone.

Though it's phrased a lot more wacky than we would today, I wonder whether what that community was saying was not that unfamiliar to our own experience of life. Think of when you meet a really great kid -- he's thoughtful, he's polite, he's helpful, he's sweet. What do you say? Well, first of all you say, that's one great kid.

But also -- that kid must have great parents.

That's what I think we're saying today. We're saying, based on how her kid turned out, that Mary, boy, she must have been some lady. She must have been something special.

I called my mom to tell her this. I could hear her writing it down. "Oh, I like that."

A pause.

So, then, she conceives without sexual intercourse, but her parents don't, but both conceptions are without sin.

And that's why they call it a mystery.


Jen Pontow said...

Love this post!!

Jeanne Brady McDermott said...

Sooo the friend gives her speech.. she is a raving success by the way..all becuase of a wonderful Jesuit Priest named Jim... who answered an impossible question that sounded like the start of a bad joke.. so there we were.. two old friends talking about conception. hehehehhe ok.. sooo it didn't relly happen that way... but .. Jim, you are such a nice young boy... you must have great parents.. and sooo it starts another story.. hehehehehheeh Thank you for the story.. and the answer..0=) Jeanne

Rusty's music of the heart said...

So glad I gave you material for today's blog.

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

Family (and friends) makes for the best material. What can I say?