Solemnity of Pentecost. May 15th 2016.
Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3-7,12-13; Jn 20:19-23
Opening to the Spirit
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
So Jesus broke the chains of death, rose from the dead, threw open the stone at the tomb, sought His disciples who abandoned Him, and in today’s Gospel, He walked through closed doors just to bring them the Holy Spirit that He won for them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” One thing is clear – Jesus is powerful and He will do anything to give us a share in His Spirit.
There is only one thing that Jesus cannot and will not do – He will never walk through the doors of our closed hearts. Despite His power over us, Jesus will not attempt to force Himself on us in any way but will continue to knock incessantly on the door of our hearts, always bearing with Him the gift of His Spirit and moving us to freely open ourselves to Him. We have to freely open our hearts to Him if we are going to experience the powerful action of the Spirit that He bears.
Why is it so difficult for us to open our hearts completely to the Spirit and respond to His impulses? In the first place, we close our hearts to Him because we lack understanding of the Spirit’s mysterious way. In today’s First Reading, the crowd is stunned to hear their various languages being spoken from the lips of Galileans “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?” Secondly, we do not trust in the Spirit enough. We are not sure that He has our best interest at heart and that we will have what it takes to respond appropriately to His movements. Thirdly, we are holding on to and attached to our former way of life. The Spirit brings about a transformation by bringing us under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. St. Paul put it this way, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ expect by the Holy Spirit.” Our readiness to be transformed and to live truly with Jesus Christ as sovereign Lord of every aspect of our life is the key to opening our hearts to Him. Lastly, we are usually unwilling to use His gifts for the good of the entire Body of Christ and not just for ourselves. We must be willing to use these gifts selflessly because the Spirit is given “for some benefit” to the entire Body of Christ.
I have experienced these resistances to the Spirit’s movement. I had just begun to seriously discern my vocation to the priesthood and religious life. I was still at the stage of fear and anxiety about what the Spirit was moving me to do. Quit my job, give away lots of stuff, leave my friends and relatives, go to another city, and begin to study philosophy while living with other religious in preparation for consecrated life. Very scary stuff! I shared my discernment with a parishioner who replied, “My, would you be happy in such a life? How are you sure that this is from the Spirit?” I became more afraid. How was I sure that I was listening to the voice of the Spirit and that I would be happy in following His promptings? Couldn’t I as well serve God also as a faithful lay Catholic? Why was I being moved to choose consecrated poverty, chastity and obedience? How in the world am I to respond?
By the grace of God, I turned to Mother Mary when I recalled that she is indeed the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. I figured that, since she is the faithful Spouse of the Spirit, the secrets of the Spirit’s actions are written clearly in her heart as much as the Holy Spirit alone knows the secret of Mary. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal the secrets of Mary, His Bride, to us as He revealed her to Elizabeth, “And she was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’”(Lk 2:41-42) As faithful spouse of the Spirit, Mary shares with her children the subtle actions and plans of the Spirit and helps them to respond appropriately.
However, I came to realize that, if I was going to respond faithfully to the Spirit’s impulses, my devotion to Mary was to be more than just speaking to Mary with confidence about the confusion that what I was going through; but I was also to look at Mary closely, listen to her with attention and learn from her virtues and attitudes if I was to open my heart to the Spirit and follow His inspirations. Looking at Mary in prayer, listening to her, and striving to follow her example, I began to see enough to take the next steps in my discernment process with greater confidence and peace, visit religious communities and share my discernment story with people who could guide me. I also began to sense that the Spirit was moving me to much greater sources of inner joy than I could ever imagine and I was moved more to embrace a life with Jesus as sovereign Lord and Savior. Lastly, I came to realize that I had been gifted by the Spirit to live for others and not for self and I would find peace only by living for Christ and for others.
The Apostles opened themselves trustingly to the work of the Spirit after Jesus Christ revealed to them the inner peace that awaited them by doing so, “Peace be with you.” They were ready to make use of the Spirit’s gifts for the sake of the gathering souls into the Body of Christ from the moment of Pentecost by their bold proclamation and witness of their lives. They grasped that they were now to live under the Lordship of Christ by serving as channels of His mercy to others, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained.”
This same Spirit abides in the Church until the very end of time. In Mary, His Spouse, we have a woman and our mother who has had to deal with the mysterious ways of the Spirit in her own life and had responded with unwavering fidelity. Mary did not completely understand the actions of the Spirit but she opened herself completely to the work of the Spirit and let herself by guided by the Spirit step by step. Mary also trusted completely in the Holy Spirit and His plan for her and she was open to be transformed from a chaste virgin to the virgin-mother of the God-man by the power of the Holy Spirit. Lastly, she was willing and ready to use His gifts for the good of God’s children as she shows in her loving intercession for the wedding guests at the wedding of Cana.
Devotion to Mary is the often neglected key to responding to the actions and movements of the Holy Spirit in our lives. She helps us open our hearts to the action of the Spirit as God’s beloved children, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God.” (Rom 8:14) Children of God must know their mother in the order of grace and look to her for help, guidance, and example in opening to the Spirit of life.
In this age of the Spirit, the Spirit is moving us strongly. If we are reluctant to follow Him, unsure about His good intention towards us, resisting submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ, or tempted to live for ourselves, we need to ask how authentic our devotion to Mary is. Is it stuck on the level of speaking to her or praying to her? Are we looking at her closely too for help and for guidance? Are we listening to her as obedient children just as Jesus obeyed her (Cf Lk2:51) or are we fixed in our old ways of living? Are we striving to imitate her obedience to the Father’s mysterious will, her fidelity to Jesus Christ and His saving mission up to the point of death on the cross, and her promptness and docility to the impulse of the Spirit? As long as we have the Spirit within us, He will continue to inspire us because He wants to do great things through us, with us and in us in our world today. Likewise we will constantly need His Spouse Mary to help us open to Him and respond with fidelity to His promptings.
In the Eucharist, Jesus comes with power to us and He brings with Him the same Spirit of power that He bestowed on the disciples on Pentecost. The desire of Jesus is that we all are filled with the Holy Spirit and become His faithful witnesses. Despite His power, He will not force us to open our hearts to His Spirit and He will not walk through the doors of our closed hearts. We must open the doors of our hearts from the inside.
Mother Mary is also waiting to help us open our hearts completely and follow the Spirit wherever He leads us and no matter the cost. We shall truly know the power of the Spirit when we choose to humbly look at, listen to, and learn from Mary, the ever faithful Spouse of the Holy Spirit.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!