Mary: Immaculate Conception

“Oh, you Catholics…” says the Lutherans about us Catholics, “Why do you worship Mary?” We answer by saying we don’t “worship Mary” but we can understand your confusion.

We are dumbfounded by this carrier of hope in our world. We are awestruck by this vessel which did not doubt but continued moving, as best she could, through this journey we call life. We are terrified that if we emulate her that we will get lost; never find our way back to ourselves, and will lose our identity forever. Yet, in finding Mary we will find our true identity.

It’s called midrash. It’s the possible back story to the story we all know and love. In other words, what happened before all the good stuff we hear about in church?

Mary told the angel, “No,” you’ve got to be kidding as she might have said to that huge winged creature standing proudly in our kitchen. Mary, not knowing the origins of her sinlessness, would still have had doubts, inhibitions; thinking ahead of what her answer would mean without knowing the impact of her answer meant. Mary would naturally have thought solely about herself and what her unknowingly “Yes” would mean. Her knowing response of “No” would have been natural. Saying “No” keeps her young life the way it is and how she plans it to be. Her sixteen-year-old mind would think, “What the heck is going on in my kitchen when I’m only trying to make supper?!”

Later, after that “Yes,” there’s supper with the husband who wants to divorce her (quietly) as Mary begins, as we say, “to show.” Joseph then has a dream and we all know the manger story.
Now there’s a two-year-old in the house and his favorite word like all two-years-old is the two-letter word, “No.” “No” to everything and anything. Keeping midrash in mind, couldn’t Mary, like any mother, teach her child what the “Yes” to the unknown means? As was her “Yes” to what the unknowns meant to her? A bit of admonishment, as any good parent does for the good of the child? Teaching a child that a “No” can often be selfish when a “Yes” leads to something greater; even if, at the time, unknown?

But that’s midrash. Made-up stuff that may be true or it may not be true.

But we know how this story ends and continues to inform and enlighten us. This vessel of love we call Mary vividly illustrates who we are as Church. A Church that possesses the wisdom and humility of all that life is. If Jesus dramatically showed us the fullness of life which is the union of human and divine then Mary shows us how it’s done and lived. Christ erased those two barriers. All the curtains and divisions that separated us from God have been lifted. And, Mary shows us how it’s done.

We have a tendency, no matter what age we may be, to add a magical dimension to our religion. (Burying poor St. Joseph to sell your home?) We have a difficult time letting go of magical thinking and enchanting intrusions into our world by the divine.

“Harry Potter” and religion can, unfortunately, have a lot in common. The magic of Harry Potter marvels us as enemies are quickly destroyed, problems solved through magic potions along with voodoo charms making people do what they would normally not do.

There’s no magic in Mary’s response. Only mystery. Her life begins and ends in simplicity. The mystery of untying our knotted lives and uniting our lives with God is the naturalness of it all. We don’t offen consider it because it was too available to us. We don’t take it seriously because it’s too much a part of our ordinary lives. We keep saying to ourselves that, “It can’t happen without thunderous sounds and ominous clouds, complete with rattling houses and dogs barking loudly at the strangeness of it all. Mary’s response is far too patient, in the quiet, through the sparse. It’s so easy and convenient to hate. It happens quickly and lingers and only grows. To truly listen to each other is natural, it’s human/divine combined. As is forgiveness. As is mercy. As is acceptance.

There is nothing of magic in uncovering what lives within us, our whole lives. The only wonder we can comprehend is why it’s taken us so long to believe it. Why its taken us so long to imitate the simplicity of the path of Mary. Scripture tells us that she “treasured many things in her heart,” and also tells us about a “sword that will pierce her heart” as any setback pierces ours.

Catholics don’t worship Mary but we do honor all of her life’s events … and our own within a spiritual context. All the events that are presented to us every day, in every situation, in each new and old face that we encounter. It is the plainness and the straightforwardness, that humbling and accepting word that Mary hesitantly but willingly whispers back to the angel’s invitation about accepting the birth of Jesus. Mary says, “Yes.” At his end, she holds her dead son perhaps thinking, “No” but once again says, “Yes.”
We say “Yes.” Or, do we? Our first impulse, like Mary’s might be to say “No. Just leave me alone.” A “No” just like Jesus boldly tells God in the garden before being arrested, “No, let this cup pass, I’m not the guy.”

Like Mary and Jesus, we say “Yes” to the divine that lives within us and wishes to become more a part of our lives. During all times of our lives but especially in those dubious and troubling times. Our “Yes” may be reluctant or freely offered to God but it is always humbly offered. Just like those two other folks we know about and honor this and everyday.

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
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