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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. It is well known that the purer metals are, the better they conduct both heat and electricity. The opposite also is true – the more metals are contaminated by impurities, the less efficiently they conduct heat and electricity.

This simple observation from physics is also true in the spiritual physics that lies at the heart of today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It teaches us that the more pure of heart we are and the more full of God’s grace we become, the more efficient we will be channels of God’s peace and truth, instruments of his love, bearers of his light and witnesses to his joy. Conversely, the more our lives are compromised by sin and the place of false gods, the less we will be channels of God’s peace, the less at peace we will be and less joyful we become. The light of God’s presence and power in us will be dimmed.

Today’s feast celebrates how Mary, from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother Anne, was preserved free from sin to prepare her to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man. And because Mary was free from sin, she was full of grace or filled with the spirit of God that permeated every aspect of her life. Because this is true, Mary was and remains a window in which we see a beautiful soul, a beautiful life and a beautiful human being that God’s light shines through.

For us, today’s feast takes us back to an important truth of our faith, namely that sin is the enemy of our humanity and not its friend. Sinful acts and sinful living divorced from God may be attractive in the short term but bring us nothing but misery and sadness. Sinful acts and living dim the light of God within us and stop us being channels of God’s peace because we are deprived of it ourselves.

The opposite to having a sad soul is to have one like Mary’s that glorifies God with a grateful heart and a life that is full of his grace. The Immaculate Conception is an attractive sign of how God’s grace makes beautiful our humanity and illuminates it from within. So often these days, we can be persuaded that our faith in God holds us back from genuine progression and the attainment of our true potential; we are tempted to abandon God’s commandments and demanding Gospel teachings, so that we can be free. But today’s feast and Mary’s life is an example of how being in a loving and trusting relationship with God does not hold us back but brings us the fullness of life. This is why St Irenaeus could say that ‘the glory of God is humanity fully alive’. Yes, when we allow God’s grace to enter every aspect of our lives, we are happier, more fulfilled and more effective instruments of God’s purposes.

So, on this beautiful feast day of Mary that opens out to all who are called to holiness, let us be convinced once again of the power of our partnership with God’s Spirit and grow to love the holiness to which we are called every day. Let us submit to God who knows, loves us and leads us towards the real purpose of our lives. In the words of Pope Francis: ‘God does not want to enter our lives to cripple or diminish them, but to bring them to fulfilment’ (Rejoice and be Glad’, 175).

In that same document Pope Francis concludes with beautiful words about Our Lady: ‘Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us. Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper, time and time again: “Hail Mary…” (176).

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