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He Was Conceived by the Power of the Holy Spirit,
and was Born of the Virgin Mary

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Our present conference is a profession of our Catholic faith on how God became man. We have already declared that we believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, Our Lord. Our focus here is on how the Incarnation took place. Two powers cooperated with each other in order for the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to become incarnate: the Holy Spirit or the Third Person of the Trinity and the humble girl of Nazareth whose name was Mary. In human language, this cooperation produced the God-Man, Jesus Christ, who is the Redeemer of the human race.

Why did the Son of God become man? He became man to reconcile us sinners with God. We were sick and had to be healed; fallen and had to be raised up; dead and had to be brought back to life again.

God became man to teach us the meaning of true love, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that those who believe in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (Jn 3:16).

God became man to be our pattern of holiness. By imitating His virtues as man, we become more and more like Him, the all-holy God.

God became man to make us sharers in His divine nature and partners in His own happiness as God in a heavenly eternity.

True God and True Man

We dare not suppose that, because God became man, He somehow lost something of His divinity or did not assume the fullness of our humanity. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. In the vocabulary of our faith, the Savior is “one in being with the Father.”

Remember the occasion when the Jews stood around Jesus with large stones in their hands, ready to put Him to death. When He asked them, “Why do you want to stone me? Is it because of the good works I have performed among you?” They shouted back, “It is not because of the good works you have performed, but because, although you are a mere man, you make yourself equal to God.”

Christ’s claims to equality with God were the main reason why His enemies had him crucified on Calvary.

However, the same Jesus of Nazareth, who was obviously human, was also, although less obviously, truly divine. This is the foundation of Christianity. Only those are Christians who believe that Jesus was the living God who walked the streets of Palestine, who talked with human lips, who ate our food and breathed our air was the Creator of the world. Everyone else is only a Christian in name.

Does Jesus Christ, therefore, have two natures? Yes, He has two natures, one human and one divine. But He is only one person. This was solemnly defined by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. “We confess,” the profession of faith declares “that one and the same Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without distinction or change or separation. The distinction between His natures was not abolished by their union, but the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person and one substance.”

Does this mean that everything in Christ’s human nature is to be attributed to His divine Person? Yes, this includes not only His miracles, but also His sufferings. We believe that He who was crucified on Calvary, our Lord Jesus Christ, is true God and Lord of the universe.

Did Jesus cease to be God when He became man? Absolutely not! In the words of the Byzantine liturgy, we say, “O Christ, our God, by your death, you have crushed death.”

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of realizing that by His incarnation, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became truly human. He is like us in all things except sin. He has a human soul, as well as a human body. He has a human mind and a human will, human feelings and emotions.

In His human nature, Christ manifested everything that belongs to God. In His human intellect, He had the immediate knowledge of the Father and of the secret thoughts of our heart.

Are we saying that Jesus had and has two wills, one divine and the other human? Indeed. And His human will was and is always conformed to His divine will. We get some idea of the human will in the Savior from His agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when He cried out to His heavenly Father, “If it be possible, let this chalice pass from me, yet not my (human) will, but thine (divine) will be done!”

Conceived by the Holy Spirit

It must seem strange that the Apostles’ Creed should be clear that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Yet the strangeness disappears the moment we realize that Christ had only one Father, the First Person of the blessed Trinity.

As God, Christ had no beginning. He existed from all eternity as the Second Person of the Godhead. But He did have a beginning as man. Unlike all other human beings, He did not have a human father. However, He did have a human beginning twice over. His soul was immediately created out of nothing, no less than our souls at the moment of our conception in our mothers’ wombs. Moreover, Christ’s body came directly into existence by a miraculous act of God’s omnipotence. Unlike us, His bodily conception took place not through carnal intercourse, but through the special intervention of divine power.

That is why God worked the miracle of enabling Elizabeth, a sterile woman, to conceive a son years after her childbearing age. The Blessed Virgin had vowed herself to a life time virginity when the angel announced to her that she was to become the Mother of the Most High.

Unlike Zachary, the father of John the Baptist, Our Lady did not doubt that she could retain her virginity and yet conceive and give birth to the Messiah. But as the Virgin Most Prudent, she asked the angel, “How shall this happen, since I do not know man?” Gabriel told her, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you; and therefore the Holy One to be born shall be called the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month; for nothing is impossible with God.”

The Blessed Virgin needed no more assurance from the angel. That is why she simply said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” At that moment, the God who had been in the world as God from the moment He created it, began to be present on earth as man.

Once He became man in the womb of His mother, He will never cease to be the Incarnate God for all eternity. Jesus Christ is in heaven at the right hand of His heavenly Father. Jesus Christ is on earth, true God and true man, in the Blessed Sacrament.

Mary, Model of Our Faith

As we look at the modern world, saturated by the culture of death, we ask ourselves: Is there any hope of restoring secularized countries like our own to some semblance of Christian sanity?

Mother Teresa asked President Clinton, “How can you punish any crime in the United States if you approve and promote abortion?” Once a nation legalizes the murder of innocent unborn children, it has no rational grounds for penalizing any moral evil. That is why I do not hesitate to say that the Holy Eucharist is the center of the pro-life movement.

It will take nothing less than a cosmic miracle of God’s grace to convert one once-civilized country after another back to obedience to divine laws. The same Jesus who performed miracles in first century Palestine must perform miracles of conversion in the hearts of millions of perverted souls in our day. No merely human strategy can change the pro-death mentality that has penetrated whole nations in the twentieth century. Only the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, can provide the light and strength needed to restore whole civilizations back to the friendship of God.

Our present reflection is on the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of Jesus Christ, and therefore, the Mother of the Holy Eucharist. We cannot emphasize too strongly that the Holy Eucharist is the living Christ, with the fullness of the human nature which He received from His mother. As St. Augustine says, “The flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary.” Except for her, He could not have said at the last supper, “This is my Body, this is my Blood.”

With this as our background, we now remind ourselves that the massive pro-death culture in the world today is demonic. It was because of the devil that death first came into the world. When he seduced Eve, who then seduced Adam, the consequences included the loss of bodily immortality, which the human race was to have enjoyed, except for original sin. When we say that the devil is a murderer, we mean that he wants to destroy human bodies by bodily death on earth, and he wants to destroy human souls by spiritual death in hell. Any other estimate of abortion or euthanasia is shallow. In fact, it would be building on sand.

The real force behind the culture of death is the evil spirit. If we hope to face this force and reverse this movement, we must use superhuman means to do so. These superhuman means, on our part, are faith after the example of Mary; and prayer, by asking Mary to obtain from Jesus the miraculous power of conquering Satan, who is behind the global homicide so prevalent in our day.

Faith After the Example of Mary. There is no human person in the annals of history whose faith was deeper or more precious in the eyes of God than that of His Mother, Mary. As we read the Gospels, we see something of what this means.

At the Annunciation, Mary believed that she was being invited to become the Mother of God. When the angel explained to her how she would conceive the Redeemer, without losing her virginity, she made an act of faith. She believed what the angel told her, that there is nothing impossible for God. When she conceived her Son, she believed that she was carrying her Creator in her womb. No mother’s faith before or since has ever been greater. In fact, no woman’s faith can be Mary’s equal. When we say in the Hail Mary, “Blessed art thou among women,” we are affirming the fact that Mary was so blessed by God because she believed so deeply in the God whom she carried for nine months before His birth. This, we may say, is what the women of the world today most need to be blessed by their Lord: something of the faith of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Creator.

At the Visitation, she believed what Elizabeth told her, when she addressed Mary as “the Mother of my Lord.” She believed what Elizabeth said when the unborn John the Baptist stirred with joy in his mother’s womb. Why did he stir for joy? Because, Mary began to exercise her mediation of grace from Jesus whom she was carrying in her body. Mary’s words in Elizabeth’s ears, as the Church believes, sanctified John and enabled him to be born without sin.

  • Mary believed every word that she said in the Magnificat.

  • That all generations would call her blessed,

  • That God’s mercy is on all who fear Him,

  • That God casts down the mighty from their thrones, and lifts up the lowly.

  • At Bethlehem, Mary believed what the shepherds told her about the angels announcing the birth of the Savior. She believed that God does give His peace to those who do His will.

At the Presentation, Mary believed that her Son would be contradicted, opposed, and finally crucified. She believed that her own soul would be pierced by a sword. She expected suffering. She knew that to accept Christ means to embrace the cross.

At Cana, Mary believed that Jesus could work the miracle of changing water into wine. That is why, after apparently being rebuffed by Him, she told the servants to “do whatever He tells you.”

During Christ’s public life, Mary believed that some, at least, would also believe in her Son’s divinity; that some, at least, would obey His teaching and would follow His example.

On Calvary, Mary believed that the dying Man on the cross was God. She believed that Jesus would rise from the dead. Her faith never wavered. That is why over the centuries, Saturday remains Mary’s Day or, as it is also called, Faith Day.

Our Faith Modeled on the Faith of Mary. There is nothing more needed in the pro-life movement than a deep faith in the providence of God. There is nothing which pro-life apostles need more than a share in the faith that Mary had when she saw the Author of Life murdered by His own creatures.

What does it mean to model our faith on that of Our Lady? We must believe without comprehending. We must believe against all human odds. We must believe that God has an all-wise purpose in permitting the flood of anti-life crimes in the world today. We must trust that He will bring good, even greater good than would have come if sin had not been committed. We believe that sin is mysteriously part of divine providence. We believe that where crime is so abundant there Gods loving mercy will be even more abundant.

Let us be clear, however. Christ is giving us this grace to believe the incomprehensible and to accept the humanly unbearable. But we must cooperate with this grace, even as Mary did. The heart of this cooperation is knowing what Christ wants and then doing it. That was Mary’s message to the servants at Cana. They did what Christ told them to do. Then, as the poet tells us, the water looked at its Maker and blushed.

Like Our Lady, we should expect miracles. The highest miracle is not moving mountains. It is moving human wills from self-idolatry to submission to the will of God. This is the moral miracle that we should expect if we hope to convert a society in which innocent people are murdered, and the murderers become leaders in the modern world.

Prayer Through Mary to Her Divine Son. We commonly speak of praying to Mary. This is correct, provided we understand what this means. What do we mean? We mean that because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God; therefore whatever she asks of her divine Son, He will grant her. But we must ask. We must keep asking. We must keep asking confidently, trusting that our prayers will be heard.

That is why the Memorare is such an important prayer in the Catholic Church and, I would say, indispensable in the pro-life movement. We tell Our Lady that “never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided.” That is why we continue, “Inspired by this confidence, we fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, our Mother, to thee do we come, before thee we stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer us. Amen.”

Mary’s power of intercession with her divine Son is beyond human calculation. It is no wonder, then, that most of the world-famous shrines are dedicated to Our Lady. Centuries of Christian experience have taught the people that Mary is the wonder-worker used by her divine Son to do what only God can perform. Only God can change a culture that destroys human life into a culture that respects even the life of an unborn child. But Mary must be invoked by us so that she, in turn, may intercede with her Son to change hearts of stone into hearts of selfless love.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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