In an interesting way I found a kind of focus in today’s liturgy in the Holy Spirit. As it happens, here at Creighton we are celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit as it is our custom and that of many Catholic Universities. In celebrating this most important ritual of the beginning of the Academic Year, we will most likely draw upon different scripture texts from the lectionary for Votive Masses or special celebrations. But I find it amazing that there is a doorway into appreciation for some of the many roles of the Holy Spirit within the Ordinary Time readings assigned to this day. Furthermore, this is an optional memorial of the Holy Name of Mary – a Spanish feast of the 1500s that spread to the rest of the Church after a military victory of Christian armies under the protection of Mary’s name, over Muslim attackers in the late 17th Century at the gates of Vienna, Austria.
After the separation of the East and West, the Western (Latin Rite) Church often seemed to forget the role of the Holy Spirit in the works of the Trinitarian God, except that the Church ascribed many of the roles of the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary (comforter of the afflicted, consoler of the sorrowful etc.) There is an important theological intuition in this, of course, Mary does reveal something of the feminine presence of God to the Church, as does the Church itself in its “motherhood” of its children, and the Spirit was often portrayed, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures) in more feminine terms.
In the readings for the Ordinary Time liturgy we begin with Paul sharing with us something of his struggle for discernment of spirits. ‘I don’t tell you this as God’s word, necessarily’, Paul says, ‘rather this is my own discernment based on the signs of the times – it’s a tough world right now, the end of the world as we know it seems to be coming, so don’t change your primary vocation or commitments. But if you are not married, I’d like to spare you the hardships of such an intimate relationship in what is obviously a world that is passing away.’ This discernment of Paul’s is seen by the Church as guided by the Spirit since it is included in the Scripture Canon, and is brought to our attention in the liturgy.
Then the Lectionary calls us to respond with a “royal marriage” psalm, (Ps 45) that is often used for Marian feasts and devotions “Listen to me daughter, see and bend your ear . . .” implying that Mary’s disclosure of God’s presence is in her single heartedness – her absolute devotion to God’s will. Thus the Church’s sacramental character too, is disclosed when the members together are single hearted about the values of God’s Reign: The values of dispossession, willingness to suffer sorrow and persecution for God’s sake – a way of living in this world that can be thought of as the “essence of the virginal heart” – rather than just someone who has never had a sexual encounter.
But what of the Gospel text from Luke which presents his version of the beatitudes and their parallel woes, blessings that fall on those who give their loyalty to God, and curses that fall on those who are loyal to values of wealth, power and esteem of this passing world. The tie to the first reading is the fact that Paul is suggesting that one ought to give one’s entire focus to God ( have a virginal heart) since this world is passing and God’s Reign is permanent. The Gospel spells out the consequences of choosing wrongly between the passing wealth of this world and the permanent wealth of God’s Reign.
But how do they tie in to the Holy Spirit, Mary and the Church? This may be more leaping around than is practical, but of course the power to live as committed to the Reign of God can only come from God’s Spirit – it is, in fact a sign of the presence of God’s Spirit in persons and in the whole Church. Mary is the perfect practitioner of the ways of the Spirit. Her choices witness the utter commitment of a totally human person to the Will of God, hence her fullness of the Holy Spirit. The Church is most Marian, that is, most evidently imitating and honoring her Holy Name, when we carefully discern the Spirit of God in the issues of our time and happily choose with the values of God’s Reign rather than woefully choose with the values of this passing world.
It strikes me that this wisdom would be a good note on which to begin an Academic year; or a good note for living just any Wednesday of Ordinary Time. "Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” Luke 6. 24
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