As we arrive at the great feast of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit, it is fitting that we should consider how best to welcome the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
We are blessed as Catholics to have many examples of great Saints and Mystics who intimately experienced the Holy Spirit. From the great Carmelite Saints, to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, to Theologians, Missionaries, and Apostles, there is no shortage of people whose wisdom we can glean. I personally have benefited deeply from the writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila compiled and explicated by Fr. Thomas Dubay in his book: “Fire Within”.
None of these great heroes, however, can come close to the highest example of openness to the Holy Spirit in human history. Here I am speaking of the spouse of the Holy Spirit: Mary, the mother of God.
Now, none of us are called to physically bring Christ into the world, but there is another aspect of Mary’s ministry that we are all called to replicate. In our own, limited ways, we are to imitate Mary, the archetype of all missionaries.
This may seem odd, and it’s certainly not a title the Church has declared for her, but I think it is an aspect of her life (especially her life in Heaven) to which we should renew our attention. We often think of Mary in the domestic sense, caring for us as she cared for and raised our Lord, or we think of her as a regal Queen of Heaven, an image which gives us comfort and strength as we consider our powerful intercessor before the throne of God. We don’t, however, think of Mary as a missionary.
This makes sense, of course. Although she is listed among those present at Pentecost, we have no record of her being among the apostles who traveled to the ends of the known world to preach the Gospel. To the best of our knowledge she remained with St. John from the time of her Son’s crucifixion until her assumption. She doesn’t seem to preach, travel, or play much of a role in the early Church, beyond being an important source for the writing of the Gospels.
It’s after her assumption that we see her live to the fullest the mission and charism given to the Church at Pentecost, in her apparitions around the world. I will focus on only one here, though there are many examples.
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing to St. Juan Diego is well known, so I won’t rehash the whole thing here (If you aren’t familiar or want a refresher, you can listen to Fr. Drew tell the story here). I want to focus on one aspect of what she says, and how she appears. When Juan Diego reacted in terror to her, she said, in his language “Do not be afraid, am I not here who am your mother?”. When the Guadalupe image was implanted on his tilma, Spanish and Indigenous peoples alike were shocked to see that she appeared to be a Mestiza, a mix between the two people groups.
This was important because while the Spanish colonizers had been trying and failing for years to convert the Indigenous people of Central and North America, they resisted, in part because this was a foreign faith. Catholicism had nothing to do with or to offer their people, it seemed.
Mary changed all of that by coming, as the Mother of God, as one of them. If Mary was one of their people, and further, a Mother to them, then the Church is not an imposition but a birthright. Millions of Indigenous people became Christians by their free choice in the years following her appearance.
This is the great miracle of Pentecost: the reversal of the tower of Babel, which separated nations and peoples, and opened the opportunity for conflict between nation and nation, people and people. These things are no longer essential to the human family. The Church was sent out at Pentecost on this exact principle: that the Gospel is for all and for each, and that there need be no limitation on entering into the Kingdom of God, whether one is Greek or Jew, Slave or Free, Man or Woman.
Unfortunately, throughout history, the Church has at times lost her bearings and gone about this the wrong way, “converting” by force as European empires did throughout the Americas. Mary’s missionary charism shows us the way it was always meant to be. We are to enter into the lives of those we seek to bring to Christ, to become “as one of them” as St. Paul says, to show them that we care for them, that we love them, that we are here as one of them, and this is why we preach the Gospel.
In a world filled with people who reject the Church out of wounds, and those who feel She has nothing to do with their family or history, we should pray that we, like Mary, can fully accept the Holy Spirit’s gifts. She will show us the way.
Andy Brandt is a Staff Editor, Producer, and General Ne’er-do-well at Konza Catholic. You can find his writing on Catholicism, Justice, and Politics here.