This week, we will have two major celebrations in this area, one for this Diocese and one with the universal Church. In particular, on Tuesday, St. Nicholas’ day, Bishop Michael Burbidge will be installed as the fourth Bishop of the Arlington Diocese, and Bishop Paul Loverde will become our first Bishop Emeritus. They have been good friends for a long time, particularly because Bishop Burbidge became the rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where many of our seminarians prepare for the priesthood, in the same year that Bishop Loverde was transferred to this Diocese.
With the transition, Bishop Burbidge will take on the role of being the spiritual father and shepherd of the Diocese, with Bishop Loverde as a kind of grandfather, giving wisdom and insights to the new bishop and to the faithful, and bringing the diocesan family together with prayers and a sense of the union of many different areas and generations.
Of course, every family needs a mother as well as a father. And, for the family of God that is the Church, Jesus gave us His mother to be ours as well. From on the Cross, He said to St. John, standing in for all of us, “Behold, thy mother.” See John 19:27. And then some years later Jesus assumed Mary into heaven, where she reigns as Queen, as “the woman clothed with the sun,” who is mother to all who act upon the words of God and bear witness to Jesus. See Rev. 12:1-2, 17.
To recognize the full glory given to Mary, Blessed Pope Pius IX declared in 1854 as a matter of divine and Catholic faith that Mary was conceived without original sin and remained pure of sin throughout her entire life. The rest of us were conceived with the burden of original sin, which was not our fault, but still impairs our souls. See Psalm 51:5.
Baptism frees us from this stain, but we still spend a lifetime and beyond overcoming its effects. By contrast, God gave Mary “preventative grace,” such that this burden never affected her. And thus she was from the beginning totally free from the effects of sin, fully open to His will, and thus most fitted to be the mother of the Son of God. In honoring Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception, we are drawn to that full purity and heavenly freedom for love that Mary enjoys always and that we hope to attain one day.