December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Church. As a child, I was always taught that the Immaculate Conception commemorated the Catholic teaching of Mary’s birth without Original Sin, but I had no idea what that meant.
December 8, 2011 fell on my first week of final examinations at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. It was below freezing outside. I had zero desire leave my warm dorm room to go to mass that day, and I did not feel like I had time to go. Besides, faith was not the most important thing in my life then. My roommate at the time was going, and she encouraged me to go with her. Despite pressure otherwise, I decided to join her for the 8:00 p.m. service. I remember sitting in St. John’s that night overwhelmed with responsibilities, surrounded by my new friends, and listening to “Immaculate Mary” playing from the beautiful Steinway grand piano. Candles were lit, and the church lights were faint. I had a big decision to make, one that had needed to be made for a long time, but one that I feared making.
The gospel spoke to me in a particular way that night. It is the same gospel reading today as it was that night.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
As I sat there that day I realized that living without Original Sin simply meant living without fear and trusting the Lord with whatever He asked…even if it wrecked my perfect game plan. That night, I made a huge personal decision that changed the course of my life forever. I felt a profound peace sense of peace. When I walked outside, I was greeted Nebraska’s first winter snow. It was officially a new season, a new beginning. The white Christmas lights reflected off that fresh snow. Christmas wreathes and red ribbon hugged each lamppost. The life size manger in the middle of campus looked something out of a Christmas snow globe, and everything took my breath away.
I think this what I have come to love and remember most each year about this feast day. Yield to love. Yield new beginnings. Yield to the change in season and in relationships. Yield to uncertainty. As the angel Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid.” With baptism, we are wiped clean of Original Sin, which provides the possibility of both choosing fearlessly and living fearlessly. So this season, take some risks. Make big decisions and changes if they need to happen. I am grateful everyday that my life has never been the same.