As a child I was always fascinated by symbols. Whether it was the meaning behind the images of ancient Egyptian gods, the flag of the United States, or even discovering that people have favorite songs that hold meaning for them, I wanted to learn more and more. So, when I came to really discover and commit to my Catholic faith in high school, this childhood fascination with symbols was allowed to flourish in our image-filled faith. The symbols of Catholicism that most interested me were the saints. I loved the stories about their heroic deeds which inspired nations of people for generations. The connection between the martyrdom of St. Lawrence and his being named the patron of cooks is one particularly curious example that captivated me. Naturally, I became interested in patron saints of places, too. To my youthful disappointment I learned the United States did not have a particular national hero like Ireland and St. Patrick or England and St. George, but rather had a title: Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
Now, even in high school I loved Mary, but I was a bit disheartened to learn that Mary, patron of practically everything, was our patron too. Why couldn’t the United States have some great founder of a religious order, or a martyr who stood up to evil? I pondered this question for a while, and eventually it dropped from the list of things I should bother being concerned about. Now that I have been a Carmelite for over a year and a half–and because we are celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception–I wanted to reflect back on my childhood dismay and see how my feelings have changed.
“With a decrease in faith and an increase in violence, depression, economic inequality and ecological ruin, we need the Immaculate Mary to help us.”
The rule of Carmel tells us that we must serve Jesus Christ “zealously with a pure heart and a good conscience.” Purity of heart, I have come to learn, is a key concept in Carmelite spirituality. When our hearts are purified we are able to engage in that union with the Trinity that God so desires to have with us. In my faith journey I have come to realize that Mary is that perfect example of the pure heart: a heart so pure we Catholics call it Immaculate. Mary was able to engage in possibly the closest union with God, by carrying Jesus in her womb. What a blessing and what a hope for us! Mary shows us that when our hearts are pure, we can connect with God on a deeper and more intimate level. Mary’s conception without original sin allowed the creation of a pure heart totally devoted to seeking God. This gives me much hope. Mary’s purity and freedom from sin teaches that we, just as human as she is, can become free from sin in the same way that Mary is. With God’s grace we can become pure also and be freed from the stain of sin. With that purity comes a conversion of heart and union with God, and that in turn will help with many of the problems our country faces.
With a decrease in faith and an increase in violence, depression, economic inequality and ecological ruin, we need the Immaculate Mary to help us. She is the paragon of the pure heart which serves Jesus Christ, and for her this heart comes from her Immaculate Conception.
For this reason Mary, and her title of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, make for the perfect patroness of the United States. We pride ourselves as a country where people can come to make a better life. Let us strive to make our lives and the lives of others better by becoming detached from sin and embracing the grace of God.