Last Sunday, the glorious Easter Season came to it’s pinnacle in the celebration of Pentecost. Just in case you didn’t get a big enough dose of the Holy Spirit then, I’d like to draw your attention back to that moment– to the Mother of that moment – Mary.
If you’ve ever seen a painting or icon depicting that upper room moment, when the Third Person of the Trinity “appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them” (From First Reading on Pentecost, Acts 2:1-11), you’ll have noticed something very intentional about the arrangement of the figures – Mary is at the heart of the group.
Sometimes she’s depicted somehow above the disciples, and you can see the fountain-like way that the light might spill over her shoulders onto the others. Or sometimes she’s right smack in the middle, surrounded by the others in Holy-Spirit-huddle. And sometimes she’s off to one side, her eyes closed, turned inward, and you know she’s the one interceding for the others. Yet in all the images she is at the heart of the group. You can tell that she is deeply connected to what is happening – and deeply instrumental in it’s happening, too.
John Paul II said it thus:
“The Acts of the Apostles reveals Mary as one of those taking part in the preparation for Pentecost as a member of the first community of the Church which was coming into being. On the basis of Luke’s Gospel and of other New Testament texts a Christian tradition on Mary’s presence in the Church was formed, which the Second Vatican Council summed up by hailing her as a preeminent and wholly unique member of the Church (cf. LG 53), inasmuch as she is the mother of Christ, the Man-God, and therefore the mother of God.” (General Audience, June 26, 1989).
“Preeminent and wholly unique.” So Mary is the absolute best example of a member of the Church – especially at
this moment of Pentecost, which is the birth of the Church. John Paul II goes on to say, “The apostolic community needed her presence and that devotedness to prayer together with her, the mother of the Lord.” The apostoles needed her – God placed her there, at this moment, as a part of His Plan- and it continues today,and is the same with us. We need her.
“Why? God is all we need – What does Mary do for us that Christ can’t?” There’s not really an answer to that, because that question is off the mark (pun intended!). Rather we might ask – How does God/Christ/Spirit work through Mary for our salvation?
That question brings us back to the heart theme – God works through Mary’s heart so that the “thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:35). Mary helps us know our own hearts.
Fr. Joseph Kentenich (founder of the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt), puts it this way – Mary brings the “fire of her love” into our hearts – and what does that fire do, the fire of the Spirit of love? It brings change:
“How strong Mary’s influence is upon the human heart cannot be easily expressed in words. Such things only become clear when the veil which covers the story of each soul is lifted. St Bonaventure accurately captures the conviction of the believing faithful when, expressing a kind of law in the Kingdom of God, he explains, “The fire of her love overcomes all things.” What he [means] is that there is no obstacle in the human person which she, in the long run, cannot overcome. She is capable of breaking the iron chains of our habits – snaps the tightest structures – and knows how to resolve the most complicated predicaments…She tears away all the illusions and empty dreams which the sinner makes for himself and destorys like cobwebs all fabricated reasons and pretexts which he tries to use as an excuse.” (1954, from the Sixth Sermon, Mary, Our Mother and Educator)
Mary – full of grace, full of the Holy Spirit, full of the fire of love – is still at the heart of our Church today, imploring the power of transformation for the heart of each and every one of God’s children – meaning everyone. Because the human heart is always where true change is born, where new life comes from. And real change is born in the womb of love.
Yet those words describing the “fire of love” are full of power – fire is dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Once it starts, there’s no telling what it will consume – parts of ourselves that we’d rather cling to, parts that we deny, parts we’d rather not see. And yet fire illuminates, too – the fire of love has the power to shed new light on the ideals at the core of our being that we’ve buried- making the diamond in the rough radiant and brilliant.
In all this, as Mary intercedes to bring the fire of the Holy Spirit into our hearts, she also teaches us how to yield to that changing fire – for she yielded in the greatest and yet most humble way – and in this yielding, knew her true self and mission.
Mary is at the heart of the world and she holds the world in her heart – Fr Kentenich concludes, saying, “She shelters us in her heart because it is a genuine mother heart which beats for us at all times and consumes itself for us in the noble attitude of sacrifice. She shelters us there because she knows what a tremendous price her divine Son paid for us…Indeed, after we view all this, we understand better how tenderly Mary bears us in her heart.”
BONUS: If you’ve read all that, and still have some time, I invite you to listen to the following song – and hey, if you feel like it, imagine Mary there with you.
Jennifer Knapp – Refine Me