“A charism of the Spirit in person”
by Monsignor Fred Nijem
It’s only a brief mention, but such an important one. Luke tells us that Mary had gathered with the Apostles in the upper room as Pentecost approached. The scene is described very simply in Acts 2: 13-14: “When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew, Simon the Zealot and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary His mother and his brothers.”
We are familiar with the Gospel scenes in which Mary has a significant role. The Annunciation, the Nativity, the Visitation, the Presentation, and finding her son Jesus in the Temple. We recognize these as the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. And of course, John’s Gospel pictures Mary at the wedding feast at Cana as well as standing beneath the cross of her Son. But Mary’s presence in the upper room, in Acts, is described so simply that we may miss its significance.
In the upper room Mary is gathered with fishermen, tax collectors and zealots. She is amid men who had fled in terror and fear when her Son was arrested. She is gathered with men who denied that they even knew her Son. She is in a room full of men and women, who, as of yet, did not understand the significance of what had happened in Jerusalem or what was about to happen. As we say, “they didn’t have a clue.”
Mary was gathered with people who were huddled in fear. The doors of the room were shut and locked. They gathered in prayer, but hardly knew what to pray for, and they knew even less about how to wait. For all of the above reasons, and more, it was extremely significant and important for Mary to be in that gathering.
Mary had already had her personal Pentecost many years earlier. The angel Gabriel had announced, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” (Luke 1:35). Mary had humbly accepted this Pentecost, “Be it done unto me according to your word…”. We can only imagine the maternal love and care she offered to this group, lost and adrift, in the upper room, simply by her presence. She was fulfilling the gift of Jesus when gave His mother to the beloved disciple, (and to the Church), when from His cross He said, “Woman, behold your Son”, (John 19:26).
By her prayerful presence Mary was teaching, without preaching, the Church how to wait for the Spirit. Mary was an example of those who wait for the action of God without impatience. She had already learned how to wait for nine months for the promise of the Holy Spirit to be fulfilled in her flesh. Now she was helping the Church to wait again for the outpouring of the Spirit of her Son.
Mary, as we intuit from the Gospels, must have ministered to the group in a loving and forgiving way. “Mary knew that the moment of grace would not be hastened by impatience, but rather by her love and prayer and her presence”, (Fr. George Montague, Riding the Wind). Mary would assist the Church in waiting for the expected promise of God, the Spirit promised by Her Son. “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth,” (John: 16:13).
The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ gift to His Church. And Mary is the one who helps the Church learn the ways of the Spirit. When we shut the doors of our hearts out of fear, Mary teaches us to remain open and wait for the Spirit. When we become impatient and start to think that God has forgotten us, Mary teaches us to wait for God’s time.
Again from Fr. Montague’s Riding the Wind, “The experience of Mary, then, is one of the most precious gifts of the Spirit. She is a charism of the Spirit in person. From her I learn to believe more purely, to discern the Spirit more clearly, to listen to the Word more intently, and to await more creatively the hour of the Lord’s coming.”
I find the presence of Mary in the upper room, after all the devastating events in Jerusalem, to be a consolation and inspiration. Mary does not hide away and suffer her grief in private. Rather, she shares both her grief and her hope with the Church. Mary is truly a mother for us all.
Mary at this moment, in the upper room, fulfills again the prophecy of her cousin Elizabeth, “Blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to you by Lord would be fulfilled,” (Luke 1:45). In the upper room Mary waits with the Church as God again and again fulfills His Word to us.
At Cana Mary demonstrated a faith that did not demand signs. In a moment of crisis, she unhesitatingly tells the wine steward “Do whatever He (her Son) tells you,” (John 2:6). After Jesus’s death, in a moment of heightened crisis, her prayerful presence says to the Church, “Trust in my son.”
Mary, a woman of faith, an example of prayer, gathers today with the Church in the upper room. In every age the Church will have its crises. In every age the Church must wait for the promise of the Lord to be fulfilled. In every age God has gifted His Church with Mary our mother, who teaches us to prayerfully ponder all these things, and then say “Be it done unto me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38).