by Matt and Johana Copas
The Immaculate Conception refers to “Mary being enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the announcement salutes her as “full of grace”. Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed at the moment of her Conception. Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most Blessed Virgin Mary, was from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God. In view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, preserved exempt from all stain of original sin” (Ineffabilis Deus).
For us as members of the Catholic faith, the Immaculate Conception is not just any feast day that we celebrate, but it is a day that is essential to our faith. Because Mary was preserved from sin, she was prepared to be the mother of Jesus. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection have saved us from sin.
As we grow up we have each gone to our mothers (or in some situations auntie’s or grandma’s) for motherly love and support. They have provided advice, support, and comfort during difficult times. How much more during these times should we also go to our spiritual mother? Being free of original and actual sin the Blessed Virgin Mary was able to more closely unite herself to the Holy Spirit and listen to the guidance on how she is to live her life. Even though, Mother Mary was free from sin was not to say there weren’t difficulties throughout her life as shown in the devotion of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. The prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, losing Jesus in the Temple, and the Passion. During these moments, God was able to give Mary the grace to endure and draw closer to Him. Ultimately, completing the mission for her life and spending eternity in Heaven with Him.
As a family, we are constantly going to her during our times of trial. During the first year of marriage, numerous doctors had told us that we were going to have a difficult time conceiving due to our family's medical history. Some recommended IVF and other methods, contrary to the teachings of the Church. As we know others that have waited years to be blessed with a child and others that are still struggling, we were preparing for a long wait of what may never come. Through prayer to Mother Mary and many other saints, we have personal devotions; God blessed us with a child. During pregnancy, we struggled with not only distance with Matt being stationed in Guam, but as well as finding out that William had a 1 in 12 chance of having down syndrome. Compared to a normal 1 in 1,000. The doctors asked if we were “sure” we wanted to continue this pregnancy.
While we didn’t consider the option to terminate at 13 weeks, it was still a shock. But we knew in our hearts that no matter the outcome, we would love William no matter what. We continued in prayer, praying to Mama Mary and going to Adoration for peace and wisdom over our lives. Trusting that Mama Mary knew our fears of being first-time parents, and having a long-distance marriage, God would equip us with all the graces we would need to raise our family. We had to heavily rely on our faith.
As Catholics, we live in the world but are not of the world. This is our temporary home till we make it to heaven through the merit of our savior Jesus Christ and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We should each reflect on the difficult moments in our own lives and how these are a grace from God to draw us closer to Him. Our ultimate goal is to reach Heaven and we should continually pray to the Queen of Heaven and Earth for the graces needed to persevere to the end as mentioned in the Memorare:
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
Matt and Johana Copas are a young couple currently residing in our EPIC Community House at Paewalani. They have been married now for almost 2 years and are navigating a lot of new seasons, with being new parents to baby William, moving into a new home, and transitioning into new careers, yet they both have remaining active and strong in their faith and in ministry. Johana is a part-time teacher at St. Michael's School in Waialua, she also coordinates the regional group Blessed Is She Hawaii. Matt is now retired from the Navy, and will be starting a new job at the Pearl Harbor Shipyard this coming August. We ask for your many prayers for them, and we thank them for the commitment and gifts they bring to EPIC Ministry.
by Fr. Richard McNally, SS.CC., Spiritual Director of EPIC Ministry
I have forgotten who said many of the wise things that have stuck in my mind in the course of life. One of those was that the Greek word often used for sacrament was “mystery”. In that sense a mystery is something that involves both God and humans. And so at the beginning of Mass every day, I invite the congregation to prepare themselves to celebrate “these sacred mysteries.”
It was in the third grade, I believe, that I learned that a sacrament is “a sign instituted by Christ that gives grace.” There you have it. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, institutes the sacraments and I/we receive grace, a share in God’s divine life. God and humanity all mixed up together.
A sacrament is a sign, i.e. something that we can experience with one of the senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling or touching. Most of the time several senses are involved in perceiving the sign.
From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins. His whole life culminated in his death on the cross for our salvation from sin. On the night of Easter, he came to the frightened disciples in the upper room. He said to them, “ Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:22-23) The Church would continue his work of forgiveness through the Sacrament or Mystery of Penance. I bring sins and repentance. The Lord brings forgiveness and grace to be holy. The sign is the word of absolution that the priest says over me. There are other accompanying gestures, e.g. a hand raised in prayer and blessing. The priest does not make up the words and gestures. They are not his but the Church’s. He speaks and does what the Church speaks and does, not just the Church today but the Church stretching back centuries. In the simplicity of it all the Lord acts.
One final thought. As a priest I receive the sacraments as well as celebrate them. Penance is a prime example. I am a sinner who goes to another priest for confession of my sins. Jesus loves us so much that he works through imperfect and even sinful humans to give his grace and love. It’s the mystery.