Over these weeks our city has been blanketed in a fog of bushfire smoke. It has been quite exceptional and a number of us have found it difficult to breathe. Given that it has been an experience day after day for some time now we have begun to long for that day, for that sunrise and sunset that is clear, for which the air is fresh and clean. There must be some days we wonder if we will have that assurance again. It can seem that we are destined to live in the grip of this brown haze.
However, I am sure that when we do come to that new day when the air is clean and fresh again, it will be one uplifting and hopeful. We will have the sense we can breathe again, and we will feel at peace with ourselves again. We have begun to long for that day! We do not quite know when it will be – maybe soon, maybe not until the end of this summer. But the longer we go on in the fog of this smoke, the more we begin to think about it and long for it.
It seems to me that our current experience of our Australian summer in some way mirrors what we celebrate in this remarkable feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. For this moment, the whole of creation, living under a pall of heaviness and fragility, has longed. Tired of all the inhibitions and distortions of the flawed situation into which creatures are born – what our Christian Tradition calls ‘original sin’ – the whole of creation longs to see something fresh, something new, something promising – like a clear sunrise in which the fog of smoke has dissipated altogether.
Mary is this sunrise that promises something new! Mary’s conception in the world introduces something different: this is what we proclaim by this mystery. The inhibitions and distortions of the flawed situation into which we are all born have lost their power. Something stronger, more beautiful, is at work. We dare to celebrate that God has so acted to enable one of us to achieve that for which she was created. One of us has been freed to become fully who she was created to be.
Because of original sin, all of us struggle with the balance between grace and free will. Our free will can so often act contrary to grace. This is what leaves us in a kind of smoky fog in our lives and means that we can so easily find ourselves on pathways taking us away from our truth, our beauty, our destiny. We become lost. We become saturated with the mystery of sin which in the scriptural sense means ‘to miss the mark”, to be “wide of the target.” It has its origins in archery: an arrow either hits or misses the target. We most often miss! Yet, in Mary grace and free will cooperate with complete harmony. A breath of fresh, clean air has infiltrated our created and human horizon. Mary is not born into original sin. She is born with a freedom in which the tension between grace and free will is resolved. She is sinless not because she is immune from the presence of all the differing or contradictory feelings and impulses that we ourselves know so well, not because she never needed to struggle. She is sinless because she never misses the point of her life, because she enjoys from the outset a freedom to become fully the person God created her to be – the one who brings forth the life of Jesus into the world.
Therefore, with Mary’s conception, the cycle of endless repetition of limitation and distortion has been broken. And because it has been broken in this one person, humanity is no longer the same. We are no longer the same. We can watch the smoke of our sinfulness disappear, and rejoice that yes, a fresh, clean day is possible because it has already happened in this young woman’s life.
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