Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
May 21, 2001
The Holy Spirit's fire spreads
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the Apostles, Mary, Jesus' brothers, and some other women went to an upper room in Jerusalem where "they were constantly at prayer together." On the day of Pentecost, "a strong driving wind" filled their house and tongues of fire descended on them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues.
A crowd of devout Jews from many nations gathered and was astonished to hear these Galileans speaking in many languages. Peter addressed the crowd with great power and his listeners "were cut to the heart." That day, 3,000 people repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus.
All that we know of Mary was that she was there. That is all we need to know. For Mary, who has been filled with the Holy Spirit again and again throughout her life, received the Spirit. In this group, she is like a godmother, helping Jesus' followers to prepare for the promised coming of the Spirit.
Through this wild scene of Pentecostal exuberance, we can see what happened to Mary at the Annunciation. At Pentecost, we see people who have been filled with the Holy Spirit drawing large numbers of people to the Lord by a power that is greater than them.
At the Annunciation, Mary is alone. But "the power of the Most High" came upon her and she immediately went on a journey to her cousin Elizabeth's house. The baby in Elizabeth's womb leapt for joy and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit. And like Peter at Pentecost, Mary exclaimed prophetic words in her Magnificat: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . .".
St. Basil said that those who have the Holy Spirit diffuse grace around them: "Struck by the sun's rays (they) become radiant themselves and illuminate others." At the Annunciation-Visitation and at Pentecost, we see this happen. The Holy Spirit spreads like a fire.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this point: "As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subject to his power" (no. 1127). This is what the Holy Spirit does with Mary; this is what he will do with you and me.
In the Old Testament, we see examples of where the Holy Spirit comes upon people and equips them to carry out tasks that will aid the coming of the Messiah. But, beginning with Mary, the Spirit comes and stays in people's hearts. Pope John Paul says Mary "was always under the continuous action of the Holy Spirit."
The abiding of the Holy Spirit in a person is not the Spirit taking up residence in a person's heart alongside desires, memories and emotions. It involves a total transformation of the person, a re-creation of that person into someone new.
Mary was so full of the Holy Spirit that when the Word of God came to her at the Annunciation, he didn't just stay for a moment, he became flesh by the power of that Spirit.
Mary is the Immaculate Conception, the Theotokos and the Virgin Mother of God. But she is not so different from the rest of us. She is our forerunner in faith and grace. Just as the Holy Spirit became quasi-incarnate in Mary at the Annunciation, so he becomes quasi-incarnate in the Church at Pentecost. The Church, like Mary, is "immaculately conceived" through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We too have received the Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation. Unfortunately, our sins diminish the Spirit's presence. So we need to seek God's mercy through the Eucharist and Confession. We need also to pray for fresh outpourings of the Spirit. Just as the Spirit came to Mary at her conception, the Annunciation, the foot of the cross and Pentecost, so the Holy Spirit can fall on us again and again if we but ask.
Those days after Pentecost were a special time. "A sense of awe was everywhere, and many marvels and signs were brought about through the Apostles" (Acts 2:43). Mary was the forerunner and she is the one closest to the Holy Spirit. Call upon her to pray that the Holy Spirit again be sent into our world in a powerful way.
Pope John Paul has prophesied the coming of a new springtime of faith. That new springtime requires our prayers for joint action by the holy partnership of Mary and the Holy Spirit.
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