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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward an STL in sacred liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“The cemeteries are full of people who thought they were indispensable.”
— Fr. Valentine Young, OFM (2007)

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Holy and Without Blemish
published 9 December 2011 by Fr. David Friel

Imagine a child. Imagine that child running outside in a field. Now imagine that child tripping over a rock and falling into the mud. Can you see the father of that child rushing to her side, picking her up, and washing her clean? That’s a metaphor for how you and I are saved. We are born bearing the guilt of original sin, which can only be washed away by God the Father rushing to our aid in the waters of Baptism.

Imagine another child, also running outside in a field. This time, imagine that the father sees the child about to trip, and so he rushes to her side and removes the rock just in time, so that she doesn’t fall into the mud. Now that’s a metaphor for how the Blessed Mother was saved.

Just like all the rest of us, Mary needed to be saved. But the way God went about her salvation was different than it was for us. Today, the Immaculate Conception, celebrates the extraordinary manner in which God chose to bring salvation to the woman He would later choose to be His Mother.

Even once we understand what the Immaculate Conception is, I think we often still fail to see its relevance to our lives. It goes well beyond the happy fact that she is the patroness of our nation. To answer this question of relevance, consider a great truth you may never have pondered: all of us are destined to become immaculate. In fact, if we do not become immaculate, we will never enter heaven. How could we? There is no other way! Heaven does not admit of any sin.

To extend the metaphors, once we get out of the mud and start getting cleaned up, we eventually have to become as sparklingly clean as Mary, who never tripped & fell in the first place. If this sounds crazy, or if it seems just too hard to believe, read these words from the Letter to the Ephesians:

“[God] chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him.”

The Greek word for “without blemish” (ἀμώμους) could just as well be translated “immaculate.” In the Latin Vulgate, that word is actually rendered as inmaculati. We are, indeed, called to be holy and immaculate before God!

Although none of us were conceived immaculately, we must become immaculate if we are going to enter heaven. Our process for doing so consists mainly in our works of penance & charity here on Earth. Then, for whatever in us remains impure at the time of our death, Purgatory will serve as the tool by which we are refined and made spotlessly immaculate for heaven.

What we celebrate today is the extraordinary work of God in saving the Virgin Mary and preserving her from sin. That marvelous gift is a sign of great hope for us. Just as God was able to conceive Mary immaculately, so, too, can He bring us to be dazzlingly pure—even immaculate. Through prayer & penance & works charity, each one of us is called to become equally “full of grace.”