Today, we honor Mary on The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of Obligation.
It’s a day celebrating the joy and gift the Blessed Mother is to humanity. It is also a date that I have always held close to my heart—It’s my mother’s birthday.
It took years of conversion, coming home to the Catholic Church, to understand all it has meant to me.
Though I grew up anchored in faith, I was not raised Catholic. I didn’t understand all the more challenging aspects and beautiful mysteries of the faith, like the saints, the living Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and Our Blessed Mother, Mary.
Looking back now over my life, I see all of the ways Mary had covered me in her Mantle of Grace even long before I knew and understood its depth.
I was always intrigued by the mystery of Mary and the Rosary when she was more intimately introduced to me during high school. 5
During my time at an all-girls Catholic high school, these phrases all touched me deeply and became part of my vocabulary: “Hail Mary, Full of Grace,” “May it be done to me according to your will,” “Am I not your mother,” and “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
But I was unfamiliar with all of the Mariology.
I always heard the words “Immaculate Conception” surrounding my mom’s birthday. I knew it had something to do with Mary, but I misinterpreted its meaning.
Like others, I believed a big misconception that the Immaculate Conception was about when Jesus was conceived.
Instead, the Immaculate Conception is connected to Mary.
Immaculate means “without stain,” and this date recognizes Mary, who was conceived by St. Anne and born without the stain of original sin. The Immaculate Conception is not just an event. It is a title, a quality, and a virtue of Our Blessed Mother, Mary.
Though it took me a long time, I now can see where Our Blessed Mother tucked me under her mantle, protected, guided, and loved me during some of the most challenging moments of my life.
I was often at the foot of the Cross, suffering under the weight of a cross I could only carry with the help of Mary and her Son.
I can trace the moments where Mary was most present to some of the most difficult moments in my life—even if I did not know it at the time.
I see the Blessed Mother’s presence, tender grace, and consistent humility throughout my life, especially when I would celebrate my mother’s birthday. We always waited to decorate for Christmas until after her birthday.
Our Momma Mary was always part of me. She is the most Holy Mother who is always part of you, too.
Several years ago, I was invited to attend an Advent retreat. Our family was enduring some difficult circumstances at the time. Many things were not making sense in our lives, and we were discerning and praying for direction on significant changes that needed to be made.
During the first half of the retreat, the speaker guided her “talk” about our relationship with Jesus; I felt comfortable knowing and sharing about my relationship with Him. I was always on fire for Jesus, a constant friend, a loving father, a comforter, and my king.
The second portion of this much-needed retreat was about Mary. I felt so overcome with sadness that I felt less of a connection, never mind having any devotion to her or the Rosary. While I attempted it, it didn’t leave me “Full of Grace.”
There was a sense of grief that I did not have the presence of Our Lady in my life and home while growing up.
Except I did, and it wasn’t until this day at the retreat that it all made sense.
I shared with a friend how I didn’t know where to begin with her, with Mary.. She immediately tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out where I sat in the chapel—Mary’s side.
With my knees bent, and head bowed, I look up to see a stunning statue of Our Lady Full of Grace standing above me.
As I sat in adoration, Our Blessed Mother lifted the veil and revealed to me all the places she was with me over the years.
Mary showed me all the sacred and treasured moments when she had been present. It felt like I imagine the many visions St Bernadette received at Lourdes when Mary said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
She revealed to me she was always guiding my steps toward her Son, teaching me gentleness, leading me to give my Fiat while accepting every cross and trusting Jesus’s will for my life.
This was a divinely inspired moment at the IHM Motherhouse Chapel, where my high school (run by the Immaculate Heart of Mary Nuns) graduation Mass had been held.
Long before I was fully part of the Church, my faith was formed, and Mary, with Her Immaculate Heart, was pursuing me.
I may have yet to recognize where Mary was in my life. Yet, a seed was planted for me about the Immaculate Conception as we celebrated my earthly mother’s birthday at the beginning of each Advent so long ago.
Our Lady was present during moments of suffering and sorrow while I was being asked to carry crosses that forced me to the foot of the Cross, exactly where Mary found herself with her Son.
Lately, I have been carrying the heaviest cross of my life. I find myself clinging to the Rosary that took me years to embrace. Mary’s tender grace and her example of accepting and trusting God’s will even in sorrowful times have been a blessing. She has taught me to turn tears of deep sorrow into deeper faith.
We are asked to have faith like Mary, to give our Fiat. While we do not have the gift of being free of sin, with an Immaculate Heart, we can cling to Mary’s example of sitting at the foot of the cross.
On this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, may you ask Our Blessed Virgin Mary to pull back the veil and reveal all the moments she has wrapped you in her Mantle of Grace.
Heather Lebano is a Catholic Convert who lives near the City of Brotherly Love with her husband, Jon, of 25 years, their four children, and two feisty dogs in their home rooted in faith and love.
She spends her days running her home, supporting and caring for her husband while guiding her high school girls with their home education and searching for truth, beauty, and goodness. She enjoys writing, creating, and sharing about her deep faith, the gift of raising her family, the vocation of marriage, and where she sees God moving in her life while lingering over a fresh cup of coffee.
Heather writes at HouseofLoveandLaughter.com and on Instagram, where she weaves words, offers a soft place to land, reflects on finding hope and joy, loving others, laughing often, and seeing beauty while encouraging others to grow closer to God in this sometimes difficult journey called life.
More recently, she shares glimpses into finding joy and beauty in the surrender of embracing God’s will as she cares for Jon, who is living with aggressive brain cancer and healing from a stroke. Heather also shares tender thoughts on grief, loss, and reconciliation and podcasts with her oldest daughter, Sophia, on the Hear and Now Podcast, where they have genuine conversations and share stories about where they and their guests hear God’s voice in their lives.