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Pentecost – Icon of New Life Lived In the Heart of the Church

By: Jeanne Kun

Pentecost – Icon of New Life Lived In the Heart of the Church by Jeanne Kun

The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and conceived Christ in her womb. Now Jesus was gone from her, but he left behind a promise, “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth.” (John 14:16-17)

All these [apostles] with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:14)

Pentecost . . . reveals the face of the Church as a family gathered together with Mary, enlivened by the outpouring of the Spirit and ready for the mission of evangelization. The contemplation of this scene . . . ought to lead the faithful to an ever-greater appreciation of their new life in Christ, lived in the heart of the Church, a life of which the scene of Pentecost itself is the great “icon.” —(Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 23)

Where did Mary go after that harrowing day at Golgotha? Did John’s family have a home in Jerusalem where he sheltered her as she grieved? We can only wonder where she was and what she thought as she kept the sabbath rest. Addressing “Our Lady of Holy Saturday” in his meditations, Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan wrote:

You learnt, O Mary, to wait and to hope. You waited with trust for the birth of the Son that the angel proclaimed; you continued to believe in the word of Gabriel, even during those long periods of time when you understood nothing; you hoped against every hope under the Cross and right up to the Sepulchre itself; during Holy Saturday you instilled hope into the confused and disappointed disciples. Through you, the disciples were given the consolation of hope, the consolation that could be called “the consolation of the heart,” and through you our hearts are consoled too. (Our Lady of Holy Saturday)

Perhaps the women who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body (Luke 24:1-12) ran to Mary with the news that they had seen the risen Lord (Matthew 28:1-10). Although all the evangelists remain silent here, might we suppose—as St. Ignatius of Loyola and Pope John Paul II have suggested—that Jesus came to his mother first of all?

At the Annunciation, Mary opened herself without reserve to power of the Spirit and to her maternal role. At Pentecost, her motherhood in the Spirit becomes universal: The church not only recognizes Mary as the mother of Jesus but also calls her “Mother of the Church.” As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger points out,

Mary’s motherhood is not just based on the biological event, which happened once, but on the fact that in her total being, Mary was, and is, and therefore will remain, a mother. Pentecost, the birth of the Church by the Holy Spirit, shows this in factual terms: Mary is in the midst of the praying assembly that, by the Spirit’s Advent, becomes Church. The analogy between Christ’s Incarnation by the power of the Spirit at Nazareth, and the birth of the Church on Pentecost, cannot be disregarded. “The person who links these two moments is Mary” [Redemptoris Mater, 24]. (The Sign of the Woman: An Introduction to the Encyclical)

First overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) at the Annunciation, Mary also experienced the Spirit’s presence and work throughout her life. So now, in the upper room, she realizes how much the apostles and other disciples would benefit from the promised coming of the Spirit: It is the Spirit who will equip them to proclaim all that they had witnessed and to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name (Luke 24:47-48). Thus, “mindful of Jesus’ promise, she waited for Pentecost and implored a multiplicity of gifts for everyone, in accordance with each one’s personality and mission” (Pope John Paul II). Further explaining the significance of Mary’s prayer for this first Christian community, the pope added:

It fosters the coming of the Spirit, imploring his action in the hearts of the disciples and in the world. Just as in the Incarnation the Spirit had formed the physical body of Christ in her virginal womb, in the upper room the same Spirit came down to give life to the Mystical Body. Thus, Pentecost is also a fruit of the Blessed Virgin’s incessant prayer, which is accepted by the Paraclete with special favor because it is an expression of her motherly love for the Lord’s disciples. (General audience of May 28, 1997)

Those gathered in the upper room do not wait and pray in vain. True to his word, God sends his Spirit upon these expectant disciples in power manifested by wind and fire—and miraculous speech. In amazement, devout Jews in Jerusalem and visitors from all parts of the world hear the Spirit-filled followers of Jesus “telling in our own language the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:1-11). In this gift of new tongues, the confusion of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) is reversed as one common word—the word of God—is heard by all.

Filled with this new power, Peter boldly proclaims Jesus of Nazareth—crucified and now raised from the dead—as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22-36). “Repent,” he urges his listeners, “and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). About three thousand people received Peter’s word and were baptized (2:41)—the newest members of the church that has just been born. A new age begins for the human race as God pours out his Spirit on Pentecost.

Surely we can imagine Mary—her heart filled with joy and gratitude—in the midst of this community of believers (Acts 2:44-47). John Paul II proposes that “after Pentecost her life would have continued to be hidden and discreet, watchful and effective. Since she was enlightened and guided by the Spirit, she exercised a deep influence on the community of the Lord’s disciples” (General audience of May 28, 1997).