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Sermon for the Immaculate Conception

On the holy feast of Our Lady.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.”

It was the first femtosecond, when from the stillness of the void, from the nothing that was apart from God, the birth of the creation, of the universe, when matter was unbelievably dense, when everything burst forth in a big bang, utter chaos, a incomprehensible burst of energy, seething, writhing, forming matter, like a sea of blood. And at that very first burst of the chaos, the particles, the burst of nothing into something, there could be seen an angel, yes, an angel, flying steadily from this burst of eternity into time, flying steadily into the future, and carrying a lily, yes, a lily, in his hand, bound for a definite destination out there when there was hardly any out there at all, bound for a definite time, when there was only a fraction of time that existed. And Gabriel flew through the chaos, carrying the lily.

The shepherd who watched the flock by the river knew what he had to do. This is what he had always been, a shepherd, so he knew what he had to do. How many sheep he had lost to the wolf! The wolf who constantly stalked the flock, the wolf who took pleasure not only in feasting on the lambs but also in the attack, in leaping at their throats, in seeing the red blood flow onto the white fleece. The shepherd loved his flock, and it pained him every time one of his sheep was attacked and killed by the wolf, and so he knew what he had to do in this case—this very special case. He had to build the tower, for the ewe had to be protected as no other sheep had ever been protected, and the tower had to be built like no other tower had ever been built, for the wolf was powerful. And so he built the tower, a tower of ivory and of wood, a very high tower, which even the wolf could not leap over, so that the ewe would be protected.

The next time the wolf came, he saw the tower, the tower of ivory and wood, and he understood why it was there, and so he wanted all the more to get at the ewe. His desire burnt like a raging fire, to attack the ewe, to see her blood spilled, and to devour her flesh. But the wall of ivory and wood was too high. Or so it seemed. He said: Let me examine this wall, this tower, let me go completely around it and see if there is any way to climb it and get in. But there was no entrance, no seam. He went close to the tower and smelled the wood. And he recognized the smell. He knew the tree this wood had come from, and he remembered from so long ago the garden, the tree, the man and woman.

The ivory could not be chipped away, but he could gnaw at the wood with his terrible, sharp teeth. He looked up at the tower. It was very high. How long would it take him to gnaw into the wood all the way up, so that he could make footholds to climb up? He did not care how long it took. He was patient, and so each night he gnawed at the wood and made indentations large enough so that eventually he would be able to climb the tower and gain the prize.

And so the years went by. The ewe was protected by the walled tower from the ravages of the wolf. More than thirty years went by, thirty years in which the wolf’s anger and hatred and lust grew until it was almost unbearable. By this time, he had nearly reached the top of the tower with his painful gnawing of the footholds, and he saw that tomorrow at dusk would be the time to make his ascent. It would take all his strength; he would have to use every bit of his wits to make it to the top, and then once there, to leap on the ewe and carry her off as his prize.

And so at dusk the wolf came to the tower. The shepherd saw him come, but did not attempt to frighten him away. He stood at a distance and watched as the wolf began the ascent of the tower. That which kept the wolf going was sheer hatred and sheer lust, as he imagined the blood on the white fleece of the ewe. It took him quite a long time, but now he was nearly there and could peer over the rim. He saw that the tower enclosed a hill and that on that hill was a lamb, not the ewe, but a ram, the whitest, most tender lamb he had ever seen. All thoughts of the ewe now vanished; for this was the supreme prize: this ram whose sheer whiteness was an affront. And so he leapt at the ram; the ram did not move, did not flinch as the wolf’s terrible teeth sank into the lamb’s throat, as the blood and water poured forth over the white fleece and over the white lily that grew on that hill. And the wolf screamed, he screamed with the screams of hell itself, for the blood of the ram burnt him as no fire could, and his whole body was engulfed with the pains of hell, as if he were returning to that chaos of the first second of the universe within himself. And the wolf recognized that blood, and in his horror knew that his power was powerless before the torrent of that blood that washed everything in its path. And the wolf leapt from the tower and limped into the woods to find somewhere where that blood was not, and in that nothingness to devour whatever he could.

I woke up with a start from my dream, a bad dream, something to do with a wolf, an ivory tower, a ewe, a ram. I couldn’t remember the details, but I remembered the scent, I remembered the loveliness of the scent, for it seemed to be even in my room. What was this scent? And what is today? Of course—it is the eighth of December, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Is that the scent? Of course. It is the scent of a lily. But there was no lily in my room, for it was winter. And it was my heart that told me: for it was my heart that knew. For it was the scent—of grace.