In the previous reflection we spoke about the “Marian” dimension of the Church, which is, in a way, the organizing principle that gives meaning to everything else in the life and structure of the Church within this world. We hinted at how the mystery of Mary interiorly fills and directs the very ministry of the pope, bishops, and priests. This Marian mystery, as it were, cradles the service of God’s shepherds within itself, holding it within the all-enveloping reality of total receptivity to God’s love, and within a profound union with him. Indeed, the apostolic ministry is ultimately ordered, too, to fostering, deepening, and protecting this reality in the hearts of all the faithful, and to spreading it to those who do not yet believe. In other words, it is oriented toward holiness, which is simply this reality of deep and abiding intimacy with God in love, and openness to all persons from within this love….as we let ourselves be cradled within the enveloping communion of the Body of Christ, the Church, and thus within the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Because of this, the unique service and office of the shepherds of the Church, from universal ministry of the Bishop of Rome to the most hidden ministry of priest or deacon—is not in competition with the intimate, personal, and unique mystery of holiness that God seeks with each person. Rather, the two are mutually related to one another. The reality of holiness, for its part, is profoundly docile and obedient to the ministry of the shepherds of the Church—in the spirit of radical faith that participates in Mary’s own total faith—since it recognizes in them the presence and activity of Christ himself. Through them it is able to discern the very contours of the eternal Father’s love and the abiding reality of Christ’s Incarnation, perpetuated in the world until the end of time through his mystical Body. On the other hand, the shepherds themselves, striving to serve this holiness in others, will do so ever more deeply and transparently the more they themselves are rooted in the Marian mystery of intimacy with God and docility to his slightest touch.
This, it seems to us, is precisely the “secret” of Saint John Paul II, if it can be put that way. His episcopal and papal motto is well known: “Totus Tuus—Totally Yours,” referring to the prayer of Marian entrustment, “I am totally yours, Jesus, through Mary, and all that I have is yours.” John Paul often expressed this much more simply, however, in the context of his profound and intimate filial relationship with the Mother of God. For example, in his first public message after the assassination attempt of May 13, 1981 (in which his life was saved through the intervention of the Virgin), he said: “Mary, I repeat to you today: Totus Tuus. I am totally yours.” The depth and breadth of his apostolic ministry, and his profound, loving radiance as a man, as a priest, and as the Vicar of Christ, was the overflow of the intense communion of his heart with the Trinity. And this was a communion that matured precisely in the context of his total belonging to Mary…through his sharing in the depths of her own inner heart, her prayer, and her dispositions of faith, hope, and love. In other words, John Paul II harmonized within himself the “Marian” and “Petrine” elements of the Church so completely that they could not be separated from one another. In this way, his sanctity is a beautiful witness for all of us, revealing in a brilliant way God’s intentions for each one of us and for his universal Church.
This is true because the relation between holiness and apostolic ministry (which is realized uniquely in the successors of the Apostles—the bishops and priests) is also a reality in the life of each one of us. We too, from the fullness of our experience of God’s tender and unique love for us, are opened to share ourselves with others: to love as we have been loved. The discovery of our “belovedness” before God flowers in the desire to gaze upon every person in the truth of their own belovedness before him, their own unique identity as his precious child. Indeed, as our acceptance of God’s love allows us to surrender ever more totally to him, letting him espouse us to himself in a breathtaking nuptial union, our hearts also expand to manifest this love for others. We become, as Saint John the Baptist said of himself, a “friend of the Bridegroom,” who prepares the bride (every heart!) for the encounter with her Beloved (Jn 3:29).
Our transparency to the light and love of God for the sake of our brothers and sisters, therefore, depends upon the depths of our intimacy with the Trinity in prayer and self-surrender. It depends upon the degree to which we plunge into the “Marian heart” of the Church, sharing in Mary’s experience, in her dispositions, in her contemplation, in her openness to the Spirit, in her union with Christ and, through him, with the Father.
Yes, as we have said multiple times: through Mary God opens the “space” in the bosom of the Church in which the life of each one of us can unfold in communion with the Trinity and with our brothers and sisters. This space, this “hearth of love,” this “home of communion,” is the deepest reality of the Church which Christ founded, and into which he invites all of humanity. Here we are enfolded in the communion of saints, in the family of redeemed humanity, in which the deepest longings and aspirations of our hearts are fulfilled—as we are made one with the Trinity, enfolded in his embrace, and one also with every person, whom we encounter most profoundly precisely in this place.
To conclude this reflection, let us turn our gaze for a moment to one of the beautiful mysteries that has not received much treatment in these reflections: the relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit—indeed the threefold union between the Spirit, Mary, and the Church. We could easily devote an entire week or more of thought and prayer to this topic alone. However, the essential elements are present in all that we have been saying, though the Holy Spirit’s name is not made explicit every time his presence is apparent. We can summarize this way: What the Holy Spirit is in the divine order, Mary reveals in the created order; and, further, the presence of both, Mary and the Spirit, is perpetuated in the Church.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe explains that the Holy Spirit is, as it were, the “uncreated Immaculate Conception,” while Mary is the created Immaculate Conception—in other words, the pure fruit of the love of the Father and the Son, the radiant expression of their intimacy. Indeed, we can affirm that the Holy Spirit is not only the “conception” of the love of Father and Son, but the very “womb” of the Son’s eternal begetting, the “space” of the divine encounter—and himself also Beloved, a Person uniquely and infinitely loved. Thus, when the Son becomes a man, the role of the Holy Spirit becomes incarnate for him in a unique way in the person of his mother, Mary—who is irradiated wholly with the Spirit’s presence and reveals him in a particular way.
Mary is now the “womb” in which the Son’s eternal begetting from the Father becomes present in time within humanity. She is also the “space,” in her motherly love, through which the Son at first awakens to the outpouring gift of the Father’s love and gives himself back to the Father (as we saw in our first week concerning the child’s awakening to consciousness). Mary is, further, that same “womb” and “space” for each one of us, through whom we receive the love of Christ and are drawn near to him, and in whose sheltering love we are protected, nourished, and brought to maturity for the final birth into eternal life.
But this is precisely the work of the Holy Spirit! And, further, this is the work and the mystery of the Church! Therefore we are led to the profound realization that these three realities are inseparably united and work in ceaseless harmony throughout salvation history: the Holy Spirit, Mary, and the Church. The tender and “maternal” breath of the Holy Spirit, who is the bond of intimacy in the bosom of the Trinity—and who is also the One who draws all the children of God into unity within this world—is manifested most profoundly in the person of Mary, Virgin and Mother, and in the Church, who perpetuates this mystery in each one of us until the end of time.
– Do I see how the depths of my intimacy with God in prayer is the direct source of the fruitfulness of my life for the good of my brothers and sisters?
– Is there something within me that holds me back from opening myself totally to God’s gift, and from surrendering myself completely into his hands?
– What is my response to the words drawing attention to the deep relationship between the Holy Spirit, Mary, and the Church?