Beyond Mount Doom

A Tale that Has a ‘Ring’ to It

By Fr. Andy Davy, MIC
Have you ever found yourself in prayer sheepishly wondering: “Hey God, that’s wonderful that you gave Mary that amazing gift of never having any spot of sin, but, uh … what does that have to do with my life?” 

You wouldn’t be alone. Many Catholics have at one time or another felt disconnected from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. As in, “Great for you, Mary, but what about us?”

Yet the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, the core charism of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, is a gift for all of us. It is the beautiful story of how God’s mercy is stronger than the darkness of the evil one. That mercy, while in full flower within Mary, is the same mercy, in seed form, within us. 

With the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception coming upon us on Dec. 8, let’s take a moment and break this down. 

The author and theologian Robert Stackpole, STD, describes our relationship with the Immaculate Conception quite nicely: 

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was the great divine act of grace that lay at the foundation of God’s whole work of salvation through Christ.  … And in the fullness of time, this special grace enabled her to receive our Savior into the world. In short, the whole world’s salvation began with a foundational act of unmerited, unprompted, freely given Divine Mercy. That act of mercy was Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

Her Immaculate Conception foreshadows what’s in store for us. We’re all called to holiness, to be freed from sin through the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Reconciliation. After all, God has a unique role for each of us to play in His plan of salvation. 

This is the reason that St. Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, would cry out that God’s greatest dream for His children was that they would be “holy and immaculate” (1:4). 

Mary’s gift is our future, if we allow the seed of Christian baptismal grace to grow and flower within us. The same power of God that kept Mary away from the grasp of Satan is found hidden within us. 

When we look to Mary — when we pray to her, consecrate ourselves to her, and model our lives on her virtues — we are brought closer to her and to her Spouse, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that filled the Immaculate Virgin in the first moment of her conception starts to stir within us, and that same power of baptismal grace awakens and grows within us with a powerful strength. 

In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien provides a valuable literary image for this great mystery of the Immaculate Conception. During their final journey to Mount Doom (where they must cast the Ring into the fire to destroy it) the two hobbits, Frodo and Sam, are quite discouraged. They are in the land of Mordor: a lifeless, dark, and gloomy place. Sam, unable to sleep, gets up and stares into the night sky. Tolkien writes:

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack about a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. … He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep. [Italics mine.]

The white star smote the heart of Sam precisely because it was untouched, beautifully shining high above the sulfurous clouds. It seemed like the one thing in all of creation that could not be touched by the evil of Mordor. By encountering unstained beauty, Sam understood that the created order contained something preserved against corruption. No matter how all-consuming the force of evil seemed, darkness has its limit, and another power of greater strength could push back and ultimately defeat it. 

When Sam sees the white star, he recognizes the ultimate powerlessness of the Shadow. Fear is cast out. He receives the grace of peace and hope. So, too, with us: By gazing upon the Immaculate Conception, the Christ light begins to grow brighter, pushing back the chains of sin. In the Immaculate Conception, we see mankind’s original design.  

Another way to look upon this mystery is through the unlikely lens of dystopian stories such as “The Matrix” or “The Hunger Games.” Typically in such stories, humanity is imprisoned in some way — and it’s the only life they’ve ever known. Until one day, someone comes along who doesn’t fit into the system, and the system seems powerless to control this person. Terrified, the controllers of the system try to snuff out this individual who is preserved from the corruption of the prison. 

What usually happens in these tales? When the imprisoned people start to see someone like them walk unscathed, pushing away the guards like they were straw, they are stirred with courage and they rise up to overthrow the system. Their affinity with that “chosen one” enables them to realize that the absolute power of the system was a mere façade.

Mary is blessed of all women (see Lk 1:42), chosen from all humanity to be given the full flowering of Christian grace. She walked among humanity as the only human person preserved from the prison system of original sin. (Remember, her Son is a Divine Person!) 

When we encounter this white star, she says to us: “My dear one, you don’t have to live forever under the yoke of sin and death. There is another power stronger than the power of the Dark Lord. Behold my Immaculate Conception, and see within it that same power of God wanting to break you free from living under the shadow.” 

Remember that Mary’s Immaculate Conception was not just for herself. It’s the gift of strength available for us all!

May Mary’s Immaculate Conception be our health and our protection!

Father Andy Davy, MIC, is pastor of St. Mary Parish in Plano, Illinois.

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