Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is a Holy Day of Obligation. The United States is under the patronage of Mary, Immaculately Conceived. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854 in a rare exercise of papal infallibility.
It means that Mary was preserved from the taint of Adam's sin -- Original Sin -- right from the moment of her conception.
Of course, the Bear suspects his readers knew all that already.
The rest of us must struggle against the inclination to sin, which we call concupiscence. The psalmist's plaint is all too personal and real: "For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me." (Psalm 50:7).
What does The Immaculate Conception mean to us? Is it a mere fact, a technicality required by dry exegesis?
The sinlessness of Mary can seem remote, even something which incites more shame in us than encouragement. We are so far from sinlessness ourselves. But she is first of all our mother, and loves our boldness with her. She is not a standard for us poor, wounded sinners. That would,be impossible. She is, rather, a standard bearer. She is the first soldier on the ground in an army invading Paradise. We cannot go very wrong if we simply follow her the best we can.
William Wordsworth summed this day up in the wonderful phrase: "Our tainted nature's solitary boast." Here is the poem, "The Virgin," from which that line comes.
Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied.
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!