Welcome to Advent. Happy New (Liturgical) Year everyone.
This coming Saturday is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is the Patroness of the United States. On May 13, 1846, the Catholic bishops of the United States unanimously chose the Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, as the official patroness of our country. Pope Pius IX approved this decision on Feb. 7 of the following year and published it in a decree of July 2, 1847. Why the bishops in those days made this choice is unclear to me. Certainly, our nation was not conceived without sin, since racism and genocide of indigenous people played such a large part in the founding of our nation.
If it had been up to me, I think I may have chosen one of the Apostles, like Peter or Paul or Andrew as the Patron of our country. Someone who was bold and missionary and had a vision. That would fit the kind of pioneering spirit of our land, growing, expanding, pressing forward, and missionary. Or maybe Saint George, a warrior, slaying the dragon. But that probably was not a good choice because of King George of England, from whom our country broke away.
But the bishops, unanimously, chose Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Perhaps this is a good choice after all. The point of the doctrine, at least as I understand it, was not so much what Mary lacked, which was original sin, but rather what she always had, or as the Angel Gabriel addressed her, “Full of Grace.” Mary had always been free from sin only because she was indeed Full of Grace, that is, of God’s love and life.
So maybe the Bishops in 1847 chose Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception as the patroness of our country because our nation, unlike almost any other, did not come about because of a particular ethnic group, or particular tribe or culture or historic area, but rather as a choice, constructed by people consciously choosing to do so. Our nation was, in a sense, free to be what it wanted to be. It was conceived out of ideals, not out of geography nor history nor ethnic group.
As we celebrate this Holy Day later this week, it seems to me a blessed opportunity to pray for our nation. We need prayer for our country right now. We need to live up to the ideals on which our nation was founded. Our institutions are under much strain. The checks and balances that our founders enshrined to protect us from becoming a monarchy again are severely tested. We all need wisdom, guidance, and perseverance to ensure that our descendants will also enjoy the benefits of a democracy in a republic committed to our founding ideals. Perhaps the bishops in 1847 knew what they were doing after all.