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  • Writer's pictureChurch of St. Mark

From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for Trinity Sunday (May 26, 2024)

Trinity Sunday 2024

Someone might say: “Boy howdy Father David, don’t you ever take a break from writing lame bulletin articles? You are supposed to be on retreat, for crying out loud!”

Ah but I am on retreat, you silly goose! On a stroke of uncharacteristic foresight, I forced myself to crank out an article far ahead of the deadline this time, in hopes that some appreciative soul might profit from it, or at very least that the second page of the bulletin not be found empty on a feast as rich as today’s.

But I want to write about Mary. Her month—in which everything is in bloom and the weather is about as fine as all get-up—is steadily slipping through our hands. I would be greatly remiss not to dedicate an article to her honor. Especially as we round out the Pentecost “octave,” if I am permitted to call it that!

Here is a question for you: is the Blessed Virgin Mary at odds with the Holy Spirit? 

Hopefully you managed to respond with an immediate “No, that’s an idiotic notion, Father.” But consider this: in an article somewhere, a contemporary scholar (by some name) offered a critique of a piece of theology from the 19th century (or soon thereafter–obviously I am lacking specifics here!). There, the bygone theologian (with total seriousness) made the following claim: that Catholic spirituality ought to be characterized by three pillars, as it were. The first was God the Father, whose children we had become. The second was Jesus Christ, dwelling among us in the Holy Eucharist. And the third was the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of all the faithful. 

Hopefully you already guessed what the contemporary author’s critique consisted of: “what about the Holy Spirit!?” Surely He is greater than Our Lady, marvelous as she is. He is God, after all! Because of statements like that one, it has become a commonplace in theology today to speak of the Holy Spirit as the “forgotten” member of the Holy Trinity. And the argument is made with great justice. 

To outsiders, it may appear that there are two competing strands within orthodox Catholicism today. One they might characterize (or rather caricaturize) as that of “Rubrics and Rosaries.” It is comprised of those who perhaps would not at first glance see anything wrong with the 19th century theologian’s summary of Catholic spirituality. These are those who like to “stick to the script” in prayer, more interested in holiness than helping others, and seek it by means of multiplying vocal prayers (like Rosaries) and ascetical practices, following apparitions like that of Fatima. On the other hand, there are those who are more “charismatic” whose prayers and spirituality focuses on the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit. Again, to caricaturize, these are those who shun “scripts” in order to be open to the spontaneous action of the Spirit, more interested in healing than holiness, experience than solemn exposition.

Obviously we would not accept either characterization as fair or accurate. But recognizing something of the reality, we might ask: which “side” is right? The question is as idiotic as my first one. If we are being asked to choose between Our Lady and the Holy Spirit, the right response is a hearty Catholic both/and. In fact, even the “three pillars” of that 19th century author can be harmonized with a spirituality that seeks to give the Spirit His due, provided we understand who Our Lady is. 

An icon will help. Envision Mary, hastening to visit her cousin Elizabeth after being overshadowed by the Spirit in her bedroom that momentous day in Nazareth. See her arriving and brimming over with her joyful, utterly biblical song of praise.  Now ask: who or what is Mary? She is one full of grace. The incorruptible ark of God’ word and temple of the Holy Spirit. Mary is that human being who, after Christ, was most fully filled and most perfectly docile to the operation of the Spirit in her life. It would certainly be wrong to say that in Mary the Holy Spirit has become incarnate. But we could rightly affirm that in Mary, He doesn’t need to become so. She thinks and acts just as He would have her, always and everywhere! Including now in Heaven. 

So there is no need to pit Mary against the Holy Spirit. Or the Rosary against spontaneous prayer. Or holiness, healing, and works of mercy. It all comes together in Christ. In Catholic spirituality, we do indeed have three pillars: God the Father, whose sons and daughters we have all become, Jesus Christ, who is God-become-human out of love for us, and the Holy Spirit, who in the Blessed Virgin Mary most of all shows us the work of divinization His love wishes to perform in us, through Jesus Christ Our Lord!

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