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The Interweaving of Mary and the Holy Spirit in Us

One of the most beautiful poems by the great Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins is "The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe." One verse reads:

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers His Providence.

Reading the moving imagery of air and mercy in this poem, one is struck by the interweaving of images of Mary with images more often used for the Holy Spirit Whose very name in Hebrew means "air:, "breath", "wind". We should not be surprised by this since we know from the Annunciation scene in Luke's Gospel that Mary was "over-shadowed" by the Holy Spirit. Luke continues to fashion his Gospel around her as the model disciple—in other words, the disciple perfectly over-shadowed by the Spirit as all of us disciples of Jesus strive to be until, using St. Paul's language, "We no longer live but Christ lives in us". Our Catholic tradition is a rich tapestry of inter-weaving symbols since we are a sacramental community. We believe as we pray and we live as we believe and pray. They are all one.

Jean Claude Colin was in many ways a religious genius—a mystic who peered deeply into the mysteries of faith. What he saw there was an approach to Mary in the midst of the Church who emptied herself in her "Yes" at the Annunciation to the fullness of God in the Spirit and thus became the Mother of the Incarnate Jesus.

Jean Claude ColinHis approach to devotion (while respectful of "devotions") that he passed on to Marists was one of living out the intensity of this following of Christ by "breathing in the spirit of Mary" and breathing it out again in a life of conversion to the Gospel and the apostolic service to the Church and humanity that flows from that. This was the heart of Marian devotion for him. With some pride we Marists watched this approach to Mary become the heart of the renewal of Marian devotion that came out of Vatican II. Paul VI in his beautiful Encyclical on Marian Devotion tenderly called her our Sister in Faith emphasizing her role as one with us in the midst of the Church, in the midst of daily life, our constant companion.

After a few years of emphasizing this approach to Mary at a parish I pastored a number of years ago, I was very moved to find the catechists planning a May crowing for the children that placed Mary outside the altar rail to emphasize that she was with the children in their lives and in the world.

They caught the spirit of Jean Claude Colin perfectly. As splendorous as Mary is in faith and devotion, the children were being taught to see that she should be more an object of companionship and constant inspiration for their lives than a distant figure in the heavenly realms. We Marists do not confuse this with devotion to the Holy Spirit as well.

Many of our greatest Marist historians helped us to see that the renewal of that devotion in the Church since Vatican II did not displace the Marian images. They fold together nicely as they should for us disciples seeking to be overshadowed by the Spirit of Jesus with Mary as our model so that we may live totally in Christ as Paul said. In the words of a later verse of Hopkins" poem:

She holds high Motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good,
And plays in grace her part
About our beating heart,
Laying like air's fine flood
The death-dance in our blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still….
And wakes, O Marvelous,
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve….

Not a bad statement of the Marist mission to the Church and world.





Today's Marists Newsletter

Ted Keating, SM
January 2009 - June 2015
Society of Mary USA Province




Pope Francis has decreed that "the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church," should be inscribed in the Roman Calendar on the Monday after Pentecost and be celebrated every year in churches throughout the world.

Read the full Decree on the celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church>









Statue of Mary