USA Catholics went to Mass in greater numbers today, December 8. It is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The Feast commemorates the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother. She was conceived "without sin"--that is, she was free from the weakness inherited from Adam and Eve which we call original sin. Because she was to be the dwelling place of God--Jesus Christ--she was preserved from original sin.
In France in the 1850's when Bernadette Soubirous had visions of a beautiful lady, hands clasped together in prayer, with rosary beads in hand and a blue sash around her waist, she did not know what to call "the lady." When Bernadette was asked by church authorities to inquire about the lady's name, the answer given her was "The Immaculte Conception."
The Catholic Bishops of the United States of America chose the Immaculate Conception as the heavenly Patroness of the USA. The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC is an imposing church with a striking blue dome and a soaring bell tower. Inside the lower church there is a replica of the grotto whre Bernadette saw Mary, the Immaculate Conception. The Shrine is home to numerous Marian altars, each a miniature shrine, which depict Mary as she is venerated by the many ethnic groups in America. Students at CAtholic University of America often mingle with busloads of pilgrims who visit the Shrine. As big as the Shrine is, it feels like home to me. I find a comfort there perhaps because of the maternal care of our Mother Mary who is so honored there.
Today too was a big day at our Alexandria, Virginia book and media center. A few hundred young children and their parents came to our annual Birthday Party for Baby Jesus. We Sisters have a large Nativity back drop, costumes and a manger holding a large Baby Jesus statue. Families and/or children pose for photos with Baby Jesus. The children and parents can dress as shepherds, magi, Mary and Joseph. Many families in Northern Virginia look forward to this event each year.
Of course there were many live babies. Some of them role-played the Baby Jesus part in the pictures. At intervals story tellers entertained the children with various stories centered on Christmas. Today a young guitarist lent us her talents and enlivened the story time with music. The children became involved in the story telling by making the sounds of the animals who may have entertained Jesus: they baaa-baaaed and moo-mooed on cue, and some even hee-hawed like donkeys. A birthday cake with candles was the signal to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus, and then to blow out the candles. Volunteers passed out slices of birthday cake, apple juice and fish crackers. The grown-ups were treated to hot coffee from Misha's a neighboring coffee shop famouse for its tantalizing coffee. We thank the many volunteers, all the parents and grandparents who brought their little ones, and Misha's for their generosity in donating their delicious product.
Several parents came up to us Sisters and thanked us for havng this event which stresses the true story of Christmas. I admire those Dad's who gave up watching and for some even actually being preent at the annual Army-Navy football game in order to attend our Birthday Party for Baby Jesus with their children.
May we all prepare ourselves well for the coming Feast of Christmas, Jesus' Birthday celebration as well as our perhaps long-range preparation for the final coming of Jesus. May we be aware ever more of Jesus' presence in our own lives even today.
Blessings on us all as we begin the second week of Advent!