(Father Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J. published this column on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.)
Harrison Ford is one of my favorite actors. I love every character he has played. Whether Indiana Jones, Hans Solo or Jack Ryan, all his roles are exciting and leave you on the edge of your seat. In 1997, Ford played another great role. He was U.S. President James Marshall whose plane, Air Force One, is hijacked by Ivan Korshunov, a crazed Russian terrorist played by Gary Oldman (another great actor). This terrible Ivan blames the United States for having cast his country into chaos after the fall of the Soviet Union because of the vile principles of Western ideology. Hijacking the plane and killing the president of the evil empire is payback.
The best scene in the movie takes place at the very end. After Ivan is killed (by the president of course) and all terrorists have been eliminated (again, by the president), Air Force One is in a nosedive, plummeting towards the Atlantic. The U.S. Air Force sends an HC-130 rescue plane called Liberty 2-4 to get the president and his family off the plane. Tethering the two planes together in midair, they begin to zip line the First Lady and her daughter into the rescue plane. Last, of course, is President Marshall who was left behind with a traitorous Secret Service agent. For dramatic purposes, the two end up fighting as the plane falls. President Marshall knocks him out, snaps himself onto the zip line and makes it out just as the plane crashes.
Back at the White House, the Vice-President and the President’s Cabinet are anxiously following the whole thing via intercom. They listen to the pilot of the rescue plane as he gives the play-by-play. At one point, the intercom goes silent. The air is so tense that you can cut it with a presidential veto. Then the intercom clicks again and the words of the pilot are heard, “Liberty 2-4 is changing call signs. Liberty 2-4 is now Air Force One.” The place erupts with cheering, the Vice-President breaths a sigh of relief, the admirals are hugging each other and President James Marshall, back on the new Air Force One, is safely in the arms of his loving family.
Those words spoken by the Air Force pilot communicated clearly the message. Once the president made it safely onto the rescue plane, the rescue plane became Air Force One. In other words, what makes Air Force One, Air Force One, is not simply that it flies or has a name written on its side or is decked out with plush reclining seats and wall-to-wall blue carpeting dotted with golden stars. What makes Air Force One, Air Force One is that it carries the President of the United States. It’s his presence that makes it what it is.
Although today the Church celebrates the second Sunday of Advent, December 8th is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Church rightly proclaims that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother without sin, without Original Sin. This powerful and divine intervention took place because it was Mary who was chosen to be the Mother of God, the vehicle that would carry and bring the Son of God into the world. When Pope Pius IX declared the dogma in 1854 (same year Belen Jesuit was founded, by the way), he was formally recognizing what since the Late Antiquity period (2nd to 8th centuries AD) the Church had believed and practiced. In anticipation of Jesus and the role he would play in the history of the world’s salvation, Mary would be conceived without sin.
What affords Mary the grace of being immaculate, sinless and blessed from the moment of her conception is not that she was the daughter of a holy couple from Nazareth, or that she was a good Jewish girl or that she was betrothed to the carpenter Joseph. What affords Mary immaculate status from the moment of her conception is Jesus Christ. Actually, Mary was the daughter of a holy couple from Nazareth, a good Jewish girl and betrothed to the carpenter Joseph because of the son she would one day conceive in her womb, carry for nine months and nurture to adulthood. It is Jesus who makes Mary, Mary.
Of course, this sinless conception did not remove the potential for sin in the life of the Blessed Mother. Many must have been the opportunities for Mary to fall from grace, but she did not for the very reason that she was full of grace. Like you and me, Mary had to struggle, fight and ward off temptation. But like a mother who sacrifices so much to make sure that her pregnancy is safe and the baby is healthy, preparing things for the birth of her child, Mary sacrificed and prepared her whole life for the birth of her Son.
On this beautiful feast day on which we celebrate the greatness of our Blessed Mother and her Immaculate Conception, I invite you to reflect on the gift that is Mary. Pray a daily rosary with your family so that your children can understand the importance of her role in the history of our salvation. Accompany her especially during these last two weeks of Advent as she makes her way towards Bethlehem to give birth to the Savior. Be present with her in the stable as she gazes lovingly on the face of her baby. And remember that incredible day when nine months before in that little house in Nazareth she said “yes” to God and the angels could hear the voice of Gabriel say, “Mary of Nazareth is changing call signs, Mary of Nazareth is now the Mother of God.” And the heavens cheered!