Editor’s note: The following homily preached by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 13, 2018, at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan.
Today we find ourselves in the midst of the novena to the Holy Spirit, in preparation for the great feast of Pentecost. What I would like to do today, however, is to say a few words about what the Holy Spirit did for one particular woman, for it was the Holy Spirit Who made Mary both Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church. If we use this approach, we will do many things: We will honor the Holy Spirit; we will be honoring Mary during this her month of May and particularly on this 101st anniversary of her first apparition at Fatima; we will be honoring also all Christians who have taken seriously the work of the Holy Spirit after the example of Mary.
All of Mary’s greatness as a Christian can be traced to the fact that the Holy Spirit came upon her, and that she lived in the presence of God, continuously aware of His presence in her life. Our Lady cooperated with the Spirit’s promptings in loving obedience to God’s Word; daily she renewed her fiat of the Annunciation. Mary the Virgin heeded the Lord’s plan for her and thus became fruitful. Mary’s life was an on-going Magnificat; she was a woman of peace and joy because she gave the Spirit of God free rein in her life. When Mary experienced the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, she did not keep Him to herself; she immediately went forth to share that experience and its meaning with others. She also realized that a life in the Spirit necessarily involves service to others; therefore, not considering her own precarious situation, she went through the rough hill country to tend to the needs of her elderly cousin, Elizabeth.
What does all this have to do with you and me? A great deal, for what happened in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary can and must happen in our own lives. Each of us has received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, but have we done anything with the Spirit? Are we more peaceful, more loving, more joyous for having received those sacraments? If not, the fault is not in the sacraments but in ourselves, that we have not activated the power of the Spirit in our lives.
Looking forward to the birthday of the Church, we cast our glance on the first and greatest Christian who ever lived, and we know that what the Spirit did for Mary, He will do only too gladly for us. Today I would suggest taking some time out for a test to see whether or not you are a Spirit-filled person. The question is very simple: What have you done with the gifts the Spirit of God has given to you? Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them” (Mt 7:16). We know the fruit Our Lady brought forth, for every day we say: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Are you possessed by God’s Spirit? Another way of asking that same question is: Have you brought forth Christ to the world in which you live?
Today is also Mother’s Day. All Christian mothers find their inspiration and example in the Blessed Mother, par excellence. In an era when motherhood is denigrated, it is well to affirm the irreplaceability of the vocation of motherhood and thus the debt owed to each and every mother, not just our own. Hence, the adage: The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world! One of the great confessors of the faith of the last century was Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty. Staring down the depersonalization and utilitarianism of Communism, the Cardinal felt compelled to pen a paean to mothers, worth recalling in our own day, which has replicated that self-same depersonalization and utilitarianism. He writes:
The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral – a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?
The inestimable English Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, with his flare for attention-getting style, produced a grand work, entitled, “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe.” Interestingly, in Hebrew, ruah encompasses a number of meanings: breath, wind, spirit—all of which come into play in the Pentecost event. Listen to how Hopkins brings all this together in a sampling of his verses here:
WILD air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.
Did you pick up on some of these lovely, key lines: “world-mothering air,” “nursing element,” “breathe its praise,” “mothers each new grace,” “let all God’s glory through”? As we enter spiritually into the Upper Room with Mary and the apostolic college, we gain confidence in a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on us and on God’s Holy Church—because we, like those first disciples, are united in prayer with the Mother of Christ, who is also our Mother in the order of grace.
A perhaps more famous poem of the Victorian Jesuit, “God’s Grandeur,” reminds us that “the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” That’s the same Holy Spirit who, at the dawn of time, hovered over the abyss, bringing creation from chaos; the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the Virgin of Nazareth, making her the Mother of her Creator; and yes, the same Holy Spirit who hovers over the elements of bread and wine, transforming them into the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ. The founder of the Communion and Liberation movement, Monsignor Luigi Giussani, encouraged his followers to pray: “Veni, Sancte Spiritus. Veni per Mariam” (Come, Holy Spirit. Come through Mary).
Holy Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.
Holy Mary, Queen of the Apostles, pray for us.
Holy Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Holy Mary, Queen of Mothers, pray for us.
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