MOTHER OF THE CHURCH
Pentecost - June 8
Mary is the model of fruitful and faithful love for the entire ecclesial community. Secular Franciscans and their fraternities should seek to live the experience of Francis, who made the Virgin the guide of his activity. With her, like the disciples at Pentecost, they should welcome the Spirit to create a community of love (SFO General Constitutions, 16.2).
Pentecost was the birthday of the Christian Church. In Luke's description of Pentecost, in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:14 ff.), we recognize Mary as Mother of the Church.
Luke gives us a glimpse of the first community of those who believed in Jesus. After Jesus left them bodily, "they went back to Jerusalem", to the room where he had given them the Eucharist. The twelve Apostles are named, without Judas. "All these joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers."
This is a praying community. Mary is placed between the women and the men. She is an important, central figure, joined together with the Apostles, praying for the gift of the Spirit of God, whom her risen Son had promised to send.
"When Pentecost day came round,... something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire (that)... came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:1-3).
When we compare Luke's description of Pentecost here with his description of the Annunciation in his Gospel (Lk 1:26-38), we find that he has made the birth of the Church similar to the conception of Jesus. It would appear that he has done this on purpose.
At the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the Most High covered her with its shadow (cf. Lk 1:35). Mary became the finest model of a person favoured by God. She consented to be used as an instrument to bring God's salvation to her people.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to rest on Mary and on each of the others present. These praying and believing people became the finest model of a community favoured by God. They consented to be used as an instrument to bring God's salvation to all nations of the world. So, at the Annunciation, Mary became the instrument of God's salvation; at Pentecost the Church became the instrument of God's salvation.
Mary brought Jesus the Saviour into the world by her free consent: "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me" (Lk 1:38). Now, in the upper room. Mary is present again, preparing for the birth of the Church by her prayers, together with others who share her faith in Jesus. She prays for the promised Holy Spirit, and she begets, or brings about, the People of God.
Luke is telling us in his own way that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is the Mother of the Church. Pope John Paul II makes the same point in his encyclical letter, Redemptoris Mater:
In the redemptive economy of grace, brought about through the action of the Holy Spirit, there is a unique correspondence between the moment of the Incarnation of the Word and the moment of the birth of the Church. The person who links these two moments is Mary: Mary at Nazareth and Mary in the Upper Room at Jerusalem. In both cases, her discreet yet essential presence indicates the path of "birth from the Holy Spirit." Thus she who is present in the mystery of Christ as Mother becomes - by the will of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit - present in the mystery of the Church. In the Church too she continues to be a maternal presence, as is shown by the words spoken from the Cross: "Woman, behold your son!": "Behold, your mother" (n.24).
Loud noise, a mighty storm, fire: these are the symbols that Luke uses in Acts (2:1-11) to describe the coming of the Holy Spirit. They tell us that something disturbing is happening.
God's powerful Spirit breaks through the accepted order of things. He rends the peace of settled lives, he radically changes persons, before coming to rest in them.
We invite the Holy Spirit to come and live in us. We pray for his consolation and quiet peace. Our prayer could mean: "Please, don't let anything disturb me. Please let me sleep peacefully."
Little do we know what a disturbing guest we have invited into our lives, we ask for his gifts, such as understanding, counsel, and fortitude, we certainly need them if we are going to survive, but we hardly expect the upheaval that comes before them.
The same Holy Spirit whom we are fervently asking for disturbs our self-confidence and wrecks our pretences. He is God's assault on our self-satisfaction. He upsets the clock that marks our pace of accepting changes and persons. He wakes us up before we want to be woken. He sets off the alarm at ungodly hours. What a nuisance of a guest! Who let him in? We let him in: "Come, Holy Spirit." He has no respect for settled ways and external order when these have become ends in themselves. He doesn't agree that we must do it this way because this is the way we have always done it. He is keen to show us other ways to encourage life and growth.
Violent wind and consuming fire: these are discomforting and destructive elements. Nothing of what they touch is left in its former place or in the same condition. We believe that the Holy Spirit is God's creative activity. We often pray: "Come, Holy Spirit". So we are inviting the disturbing guest, we throw open the door and let God in to upset our furniture, whether material, or intellectual, or even religious and spiritual.
Nothing is sacred to the Holy Spirit! We let him have his way with our most closely guarded habits and ways of thinking, when these have become unfit to carry the full load of the truth that will set us free, and bring us true peace. So, "Come, Holy Spirit." Come and disturb us where we Franciscans need to be disturbed. When the upheaval is over, when wind and fire have had their way, come to rest in us. Peace be with us (cf. John 20:19-23).