Today may be one of the more misunderstood feasts in the church's liturgical calendar, as a result of the readings selected. Even many devout Catholics think that the Immaculate Conception refers to the "virgin birth," that is, the birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary. (The proximity of the feast to Christmas might contribute to the misunderstanding.) But the term, a traditional belief that was defined as dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854, refers instead to the fact that Mary herself was conceived without the stain of original sin and lived her life free of sin. That confusion may be compounded by the readings chosen for today's Mass, the beautiful story of the Annunciation--that is, the announcement of the Virgin Birth. (The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25, nine months before Christmas.) Now that we've got that cleared up here is a reflection on today's readings. Happy Feast Day!