About 12 years ago I was finishing off my college degree and struggling under the pressure of essays, projects and exams. Even though I was fairly lukewarm in my faith, I decided to pray to Our Lady. I said, “Mary, if you help me out with all this work I’ll give your thing a chance.” What I meant by “your thing”, of course, was a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. I can’t tell you how far the thought of priesthood was from my mind; if someone would have suggested it to me I would have laughed. But somehow in that prayer to Our Lady it just came out of me from nowhere; it was the Holy Spirit, welling up inside of me as it were. What this experience taught me was that Our Lady opens us up to the Holy Spirit; even despite ourselves and our attempts to resist, when we turn to Mary the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives becomes apparent and irresistible.
Why is this? Because Mary is by definition openness to the will of God and the Holy Spirit. This is why St. Vincent Pallotti rightly claimed that, no one, not even the apostles, cooperated more than Mary with the Holy Spirit and in the apostolate, and so she is rightly called the Queen of the Apostles. We need her because what defines an apostle of Jesus Christ is this openness to cooperate with the working of the Holy Spirit.
As we prepare to celebrate the feast of Pentecost, I want to emphasise how ordinary the action of the Holy Spirit is in one sense, and so how ordinary and normal our apostolate should be; it is not something that we should consider an optional extra or an activity that some people partake in every so often—as Christians, being an apostle is who we are. The coming the Holy Spirit at Pentecost isn’t just this spectacular once off event. It continues in our lives—the Holy Spirit continues to be poured out to guide and direct us in ordinary everyday activities.
Mary typifies this reality. Of course she had the amazing vocation to be the Mother of God, but her “yes” at the Annunciation continued throughout her life as a wife, as a mother, as a friend. Everything she did, and everything about her was a response to the Holy Spirit. The gospel accounts show us that Mary’s whole life was about presenting Jesus to others, or showing others the way to Jesus—from her visitation to Elizabeth, to the visitors to the crib at Bethlehem, to the wedding feast at Cana. In the midst of the ordinary events of her life, she never missed an opportunity of showing to others the way to her Son—this is why she is the model for our apostolate.
In the same way our entire mind-set and attitude, our whole life, should be that of an apostle. It not that we shouldn’t engage in particular apostolates, or find new ways to spread the faith; but the foundation for all apostolates is our ongoing response to the Holy Spirit, in the everyday ordinary situations that are presented to us, never missing an opportunity to bring others to Jesus, whether at home or at work or during recreation. This was the mind-set of Pallotti when he said: “Wherever I shall be, I intend to imagine myself to be…in the Cenacle in Jerusalem…[to] remind myself to renew this desire often…[to be] with Mary…my beloved Mother and Jesus… confident that they will help me and all other creatures to receive the abundance of the Holy Spirit.”
It is easy to become despondent when we look around us today; we see the decline in the practice of faith, the indifference and the widespread ridicule of Christian values. Faced with the state of things, we can feel weak and powerless and say “What difference can I make? What am I supposed to do faced with such problems?” Maybe Jesus’ call to Mary and the Beloved Disciple on the cross can provide us with direction. At the moment that appeared to be his great failure, Christ didn’t looked down from the cross to all the people surrounding him and say to Mary: “Woman behold the crowd.” He looked at the Beloved Disciple and said “Woman this is your son.” It is not for the crowd that he was dying, but for each person in the crowd; not for the human race, but each member of the human race. He was saying to them, as he is saying to us now, don’t worry about all that scepticism and indifference and ridicule that surrounds you; your concern is that person in front of you—take him into your heart.
As apostles we are not called to solve the great problems of the Church and the world. Our vocation is that person in front of us; this is all we really have. We are not called to spread the Gospel to the faithless multitude, but to offer the Good News to a person we know is weak in or has lost their faith; we are not called to dispel the darkness and the hopelessness that is engulfing our society, but to offer a word of encouragement to that person we meet who has lost hope. The apostolate is, first of all, about cooperation with the Holy Spirit in the situation presented to us, and to the person we encounter in our everyday lives. And it is Mary, Queen of Apostles and our Mother, who teaches us how to cooperate with the working of the Holy Spirit, in this ordinary, concrete and personal way. With this in mind, let’s enter the Cenacle again, with Mary and St. Vincent, as we await a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Liam O’Donovan, SAC.
Knock, June 3rd 2017.