On Dec. 8, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the day that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother, Anne. God chose Mary from all the women in the world for a unique, special role in our salvation: to be mother of Jesus who would say “yes” to God’s plan on our behalf. Through the merits of the death of Jesus, he gave her an immaculate heart so she could be free from all sin. She was purified ahead of time so she could be his mother and ours. Although Mary was prepared for her role through the Immaculate Conception, she still had to choose to trust in God’s plan, not knowing what the future would hold. In the beginning, she did not know the price she would have to pay in being Jesus’ mother at the cross. Yet in every moment — even the most difficult — she would repeat the “yes” she said to God in the beginning: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Although Mary was sinless, this does not mean that she is distant from us. Rather, since it is sin which separates us from one another, and Mary has no sin, she is much closer to us than we are to each other. She actually is more able to love us with that unconditional love of a mother. And when we open ourselves to receive her unconditional love, then she teaches us to trust in God’s plan just as she did. It is especially important that we learn to trust in her in the most difficult times. Mary can teach us to say yes to God even at the cross. By drawing close to Mary, we can stay close to her son, Jesus, in good times and in bad.
One of the great gifts of our Catholic schools is that children learn about the many beautiful aspects of our faith, including the gift to us of Mary and the saints. Jan. 29 to Feb. 4 marks National Catholic Schools Week. This year’s theme, “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service,” offers a special opportunity to reflect on the role of Catholic education in students’ lives. Through learning about our faith and our world, we learn how to make a gift of ourselves to others in service. Our Catholic schools are privileged places where children discover and develop their individual gifts and talents and are guided to use their gifts to serve God and others. These are tremendous tasks, but ones for which our Catholic schools — communities of faith, knowledge and service — are well equipped.
During Catholic Schools Week, we will celebrate a renaissance in Catholic education with open houses, special activities for students, and events for families, parishioners and community members. Let us also remember to thank God for the benefits Catholic schools offer our young people, and let us ask our heavenly mother, Mary, to intercede for our children that they will learn to always say “yes” to God as she did.