Today, December 8, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is the day, we celebrate the fact that the Blessed Mother was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, free from original sin. This momentous event occurred around 16 B.C. So then, you might ask, what was the immaculate reception?
The immaculate reception was a football play that occurred on December 23, 1972 A.D. in a nationally televised NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders football teams. A few days before, I was awarded a Masters Degree in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin and now was at home in Iowa preparing to celebrate Christmas with my family on the farm. I was completely oblivious to what occurred that day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You see, I was not particularly a fan of NFL football, though I did follow (and still do) college football. How could I not, having just spent three football seasons on the campus of the Texas Longhorns, one of which was when they won the national championship (1970)?
But back to the subject. It amazes me that a famous football play would be given a name that would, at the same time, conjure up thoughts of one of the most hallowed solemnities of Catholicism! So what was the play? Terry Bradshaw was the quarterback and his team, the Steelers, were losing, 7-6, in the closing seconds of the game when he threw a pass to his teammate, John Fuqua. The ball bounced off the hands of Raiders defender Jack Tatum and, just before it would have touched the ground, Steelers fullback Franco Harris grabbed it and ran for a game-winning touchdown. Steelers win, 13-7. I suppose you had to actually see it to appreciate it, because it wasn't so immaculate. In fact, it was a mistake. Harris was not the intended receiver. Besides, that kind of reception is not that uncommon. But this one, for some reason was considered immaculate.
But now, what of the Immaculate Conception? Well, it was no mistake. Mary was selected by God to become the mother of the Redeemer before she was conceived. She was the only human being besides Jesus Himself, who was conceived free from sin. She remained "full of grace (Luke 1:26-38) throughout her life. So her conception was truly immaculate. Her "team" went on to give birth to the Savior of the human race, a singular event, and we are all feeling the effects 2000 years later and will continue to do so right up to the end of time. Now if you are thinking that this dogma is not truly scriptural, you are correct. However, Pope Pius IX, in 1854, declared it to be true, and since it is a matter of faith and morals, it is held to be true because of the pope's infallibility in these matters. Besides, it was affirmed by the Blessed Mother herself twice since during the famous apparitions to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, in 1858, and to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris, France, in 1830.
Along with these thoughts, I'm thinking of another "reception" that occurred just this past Saturday, December 3, 2016 A.D. Six novices of the religious communitry called the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary were formally received into this community at an event called their Reception. It is the equivalent to a wedding for these six young women. This occurred at the American home base for this community in Waukesha, Wisconsin. So I congratulate them, and their formation director, my daughter, Sister Emily, and pray for a long and holy life for them in the service of Christ and His Church. Amen.