motherhood is linked to the Spirit
General Audience, December 9, 1998
1. To conclude our
reflection on the Holy Spirit in this year dedicated to him on our journey to the Great
Jubilee, we lift our eyes to Mary. Her consent given at the Annunciation 2,000 years ago
represents the starting point of humanity's new history. The Son of God, in fact, became
incarnate and began to dwell among us when Mary said to the angel: "Behold I am the
handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).
with the Holy Spirit, shown in the Annunciation and the Visitation, is expressed in an
attitude of continual docility to the Paraclete's inspirations. Conscious of the mystery
of her divine Son, Mary lets herself be guided by the Spirit to act in a way appropriate
to her mission as mother. As a true woman of prayer, the Virgin asks the Holy Spirit to
complete the work begun at conception, so that her child will grow "in wisdom and in
stature, and in favour with God and man" (Lk 2:52). In this way Mary is presented as
a model for parents by showing the need to call upon the Holy Spirit to find the right way
in the difficult task of education.
2. The story of
Jesus' presentation in the temple coincides with an intervention of the Holy Spirit. Mary
and Joseph went to the temple to "present" (cf. Lk 2:22), that is, to offer
Jesus according to the law of Moses, which prescribed the redemption of first-born sons
and the purification of the mother. Experiencing the profound meaning of this rite as an
expression of sincere offering, they were enlightened by the words Simeon spoke under the
special impulse of the Holy Spirit.
explicitly stresses the influence of the Holy Spirit on the life of this elderly man. He
had been promised by the Spirit that he would not die without having seen the Messiah. And
so, "inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple" (Lk 2:27), just as Mary and
Joseph were bringing the child there. Thus it was the Holy Spirit who arranged the
meeting. It was he who inspired in the elderly Simeon a canticle celebrating the future of
the child who came as "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" and "for
glory to your people Israel" (Lk 2:32). Mary and Joseph marveled at these words which
widen Jesus' mission to include all peoples.
And again it was
the Spirit who led Simeon to make a sorrowful prophecy: Jesus will be "a sign of
contradiction": and "a sword will pierce [Mary's] soul" (Lk 2:34, 35). With
these words the Holy Spirit prepared Mary for the great trial which awaited her and gave
to the rite of presenting her child the value of sacrifice offered for love. When Mary
took her son from Simeon's arms, she understood that she was receiving him in order to
offer him. Her motherhood would be involved in Jesus' destiny and any opposition to him
would touch her heart as well.
3. Mary's presence
at the Cross is the sign that the mother followed to the end the sorrowful way marked out
by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Simeon.
In the words Jesus
spoke on Calvary to his Mother and to the beloved disciple, we see another feature of the
Holy Spirits action: he ensures that the sacrifice is fruitful. Jesus words
themselves reveal a Marian aspect of this fruitfulness: Woman, behold,
your son! (Jn 19:26). In these words the Holy Spirit does not explicitly appear. But
since the event of the Cross, like Christs entire life, takes place in the Holy
Spirit (cf. Dominum et Vivificantem, nn. 40-41), it is precisely in the same
Spirit that the Saviour asks his Mother to consent to her Sons sacrifice in order to
become the mother of a multitude of children. He ensures that this supreme offering of
Jesus' Mother will have immense fruit: a new motherhood destined to spread to all men and
From the Cross the
Saviour wished to pour out upon humanity rivers of living water (cf. Jn 7:38), that is,
the abundance of the Holy Spirit. But he wanted this outpouring of grace to be linked to a
mothers face, his Mothers. Mary now appears as the new Eve, mother of the
living, or the Daughter of Zion, mother of all peoples. The gift of a universal mother was
included in the Messiahs redeeming mission: After this, Jesus, knowing that
all was now finished ..., the Evangelist writes after the two statements:
Woman, behold, your son! and Behold, your mother! (Jn 19:26-28).
From this scene we
can sense the harmony of Gods plan regarding Marys role in the saving action
of the Holy Spirit. In the mystery of the Incarnation, her co-operation with the Spirit
played an essential role; in the mystery of the birth and development of Gods
children, Marys maternal assistance also accompanies the work of the Holy Spirit.
4. In the light of
Christs statement on Calvary, Marys presence in the community as it waits for
Pentecost acquires its full value. St Luke, who called attention to Mary's role in
Jesus birth, wanted to stress her significant presence at the Churchs birth.
The community is composed not only of the Apostles and disciples, but also of women, the
only one of whom Luke names is Mary, the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14).
The Bible offers us
no further information about Mary after the drama on Calvary. But it is very important to
know that she shared in the life of the early community and in its fervent, unanimous
prayer. Without doubt, she was present at the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of
Pentecost. The Spirit who already dwelt in Mary, working marvels of grace in her, now
comes down again into her heart, communicating the gifts and charisms necessary for the
exercise of her spiritual motherhood.
5. Mary continues
to exercise in the Church the motherhood entrusted to her by Christ. In this maternal
mission, the humble servant of the Lord does not compete with the role of the Holy Spirit;
on the contrary, she is called by the same Spirit to co-operate in a maternal way with
him. He continually revives the Churchs memory of Jesus words to the beloved
disciple: Behold, your mother!, and invites believers to love Mary as Christ
loved her. As the bond with Mary grows deeper, so the action of the Spirit in the life of
the Church becomes more fruitful.