Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which, despite popular understanding, celebrates the conception of Mary, not the conception of Jesus. Catholics celebrate that Mary’s conception, achieved through natural means, also had a supernatural dimension because from the moment of conception she was created without Original Sin. The purpose of this supernatural intervention was to create the human being who would birth the Savior.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, reminds us that the Catholic focus on Mary’s uniqueness is not to separate her from the rest of humanity, but to remind us that what God has planned for her is what God plans for ALL people: to be free to do good.
Although this feast day focuses on Mary’s, not Jesus’ conception, the Gospel reading for today’s liturgy is Luke 1: 26-38, the story of the Annunciation. We read the story of Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel, who announces God’s plan for the Savior’s birth and Mary’s role in it, and we see Mary responding in a way that is a model for us all: she freely decides to do good.
On a “Next Steps” weekend sponsored by New Ways Ministry a few years ago, a gay Marianist Brother offered an insightful reflection on the Annuniciation gospel. In a discussion about LGBT spirituality, this Brother observed that gay spiritual experience can be summed up in the question that Mary asks Gabriel after the news of Jesus’ birth through her, as a virgin, is announced. Her response: “How can this be?”
For this Brother, “How can this be?” is the question that almost all LGBT people of faith ask themselves as they begin to come to awareness of their identity. It is a question that reflects the surprise, wonder, and mystery that people have when they realize that God has created them in a unique and special way–the way Mary was created. It is a question that is often asked over and over through their lives, as they begin to grow and evolve into their identity.
Everyone’s sexual and gender identity is a unique mystery. Despite the scientific world’s best efforts, we still do not know what is the origin of these personality facets in our lives. For many LGBT people of faith, the answer to the question “How can this be?” is that their identity is a gift from God, similar to the way God gifted Mary with her unique calling. It is a gift to be shared with others and used to foster our own salvation, as well as the salvation of the individuals and communities to which we belong.
On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, you are invited to reflect on your own uniqueness–either as an LGBT person or someone who supports LGBT people. Consider your own answer to the question, “How can this be?” In what ways has your sexual or gender identity been a gift? Feel free to share your reflections in the comments section.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry