January 16
, 2005 issue, The Catholic Post, Diocese of Peoria, Illinois

                                          The Way I See It:
"The Way I See It" is a weekly reader opinion feature of The Catholic Post. We invite contributions to this space and comments about material appearing here. This week's column is by John Riedell of Germantown Hills. A native of Lake View, Iowa, he is retired after many years as a graphic artist with the Peoria Journal Star. Married, a father of three and grandfather of five,
with one on the way, he has a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother, especially under the titles of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Immaculate Conception.

                            Like Fr. Marquette,
                   place 'voyage' in Mary's care

       The French explorer Father Jacques Marquette cherished the Immaculate Conception, placing their voyage in 1673 under her protection, as the "Blessed Virgin Immaculate." He promised her if she granted them "the favor of discovering the great river," he would name it Conception.

      After leaving Lac des Ilinois (Lake Michigan), the explorers journeyed up the Fox River and portaged with their canoes to the Wisconsin. The Jesuit noted in his journal: "Thus we left the waters flowing to Quebeq, 4 or 500 leagues from here, to float on those that would thence forward take us through strange lands."

       On June 17, they came to the mighty Mississippi, which Marquette would later map as "R. de la Conception."

      Contemplating this event in history and the voyage of exploration itself, there are some things we can reflect upon or explore by way of thought today.

      The source of the great river that Marquette and Jolliet journeyed upon is in Minnesota, and among the explanations for the state’s name is one saying that it is Sioux Indian for "sky-tinted waters."

       That has a certain appropriateness, for if we think of the blue sky, we can very well think of heaven, the source of the Immaculate Conception. And blue is also identified with Mary. In fact, when she appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes in 1858, she wore a blue sash over white. It was there that Mary said, "I am the Immaculate Conception," confirming the dogma of four years before.

      The Mississippi with its tributaries and the streams that flow into them, drain a vast area of the heart of America. The hearts of America should pay tribute to Mary, for this extraordinary privilege of hers -- and let their love and trust flow freely toward her. By being immaculately conceived, she was preserved from original sin and received the fullness of sanctifying grace from the first instant of her existence.

      This special conception of hers enabled God to come into the world in a vessel untouched by the sin the devil instigated, a fact that redounds to His glory. His perfection and holiness were wrapped in hers.

      From the Redemptive events following from her conception, came the waters of Baptism which wash away original sin, bestowing upon us sanctifying grace, lacking to us at birth. We cannot fully understand the Immaculate Conception, nor even our faith, unless we understand what this grace is and where it fits in.

       Adam and Eve possessed it, but through their disobedience they lost it for themselves and for us. Through His sufferings Jesus restored it.

      Its essentiality looms large in the history of the race.

      Sanctifying grace is a sharing in the life of God Himself. Through its effects we become holy, adopted children of God, temples of the Holy Spirit, and receive the right to heaven. This grace is to be distinguished from actual grace, which enlightens the mind and strengthens the will, to do good and avoid evil. Sanctifying grace is an enduring grace whereas actual grace is transitory. Sanctifying grace is a second life to be lived in the here and now, and in the hereafter.

      Think of those explorers in their birch bark canoes, venturing into the unknown, at every turn of the river, seeing yet another vista of the New World for them. With sanctifying grace, we’re enabled to journey to heaven, a new world for us. In another way looking at it, the soul within the frail body floats heavenward upon the waters of grace.

       St. Paul says in Ephesians that God the Father blessed us through Christ and, through Him, favors us with grace and pre-destines us to be adopted sons. He wrote that God chose us "before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in his sight in love." That’s how it should’ve been, unblemished. As it is, we’re born into the world, blemished with original sin. We need to be cleansed by baptism.

      By being immaculately conceived, Mary was never blemished by sin. In Latin, "macula" means spot or blemish, and the word immaculate comes from the word "maculatus" joined to the prefix "in" meaning "not" (appears as "im"). Pre-redeemed, Mary was preserved from sin.

       In his journal, Marquette wrote that had the voyage resulted in saving one soul, he’d consider his troubles "well rewarded." He had reason to presume it so: "For, when I was returning, we passed through the Illinois of Peouarea, and during three days I preached the faith in all their cabins; after which, while we were embarking, a dying child was brought to me at water’s edge, and I baptized it shortly before it died . . ."

       Imagine him bestowing on the child the preciousness of sanctifying grace, that Mary possessed from her very beginning.

         It’s altogether fitting for us to follow Father Marquette in cherishing the Immaculate Conception, and placing "our own voyage" in this world under Mary’s protection.

Note: The above picture was drawn by the author for the Iowa history book, Hawkeye Adventure


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