Visitation and Pentecost

This year, the Feast of the Visitation falls on Tuesday followed shortly thereafter by the Great Feast of Pentecost next Sunday June 5th. That timing might help us reflect on how important both the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit both are in our life in Christ.

To pull those both together, I like this reflection from the May devotional magazine, Magnificat, quoting from the book Prayers of Hope, Words of Courage written by Venerable Francis Xavier Cardinal Van Thuan. That prelate was appointed the bishop of Saigon, Vietnam, shortly before it fell to the Communists in 1975. The holy cleric died about 20 years ago and knew a thing or two about the importance of both the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the strength and consolation that the Holy Spirit could provide. That’s because after Saigon fell, he spent thirteen years as a political and religious prisoner at the hands of the ruthless Communist government who were particularly hostile to anyone of importance in the Catholic Church. They certainly wanted to make an example out of him.

Nine of those years were spent almost entirely in solitary confinement so severe that the Cardinal reported later that he was worried about losing his mind. But the Lord had prepared him for just such a heavy cross in his days as a seminarian in Rome. While there, he traveled to the famous Marian pilgrimage site in Lourdes, France, where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette in the late 19th century. As a result of that pilgrimage, he reflected carefully on Mary’s words to that young saint, “I do not promise you joys and consolations on this earth, but rather trials and sufferings.” He knew that those words were intended not just for Bernadette but for his own future. And so he prayed on the spot, “For your son’s name and yours, Mary, I accept trials and sufferings.”

When the suffering began there in the infamous Vietnamese “reeducation camps” (actually concentration camps and brain-washing centers), he was then open for the Holy Spirit to do great work in him and to provide him consolation through his dreadful ordeal. More than that, he was even able to witness to his hope in Christ to others confined to that miserable place. For example, when he was not in solitary confinement, at great risk to himself, he secretly celebrated Mass, often using just two or three drops of wine smuggled in by sympathetic guards when he explained that he needed a little wine for his stomach. With no proper vessels such as chalices, he simply cupped a tiny drop of water in one hand and the wine in the other, scrounging a few crumbs of bread to complete the sacrifice.

He wrote messages of hope to others on the outside on whatever scraps and fragments he could cobble together. When his mind was so tortured that he could not even remember the words to the Hail Mary, still, he at least turned to the Blessed Mother to intercede for him. When such a man writes about the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, we can be sure that this is not just pious sentimentality but rooted in personal experience. Here’s a bit of his wisdom:

The Holy Spirit took total possession of you, Virgin Mary. The Spirit dwells in you, lives in you, and in you realizes the greatest work of human history: The Word was made flesh. The Holy Spirit acts freely in you; you belong to the Spirit, Mary, for me you are a model of obedience and docility, of faith and of abandonment to the Holy Spirit.

Teach me to listen to the Holy Spirit: It is the Spirit of the Father who speaks in you. Teach me to entrust myself to the Holy Spirit: The Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Teach me to allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to act within me: For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.

The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, the strength of martyrs, the confidence of pastors, and the singleheartedness of consecrated persons. The human mind cannot understand all of this. Meditation on the Word of God introduces us into this mystery. Only God can reveal to us what God’s Spirit is and how powerful and sweet is the Spirit’s action in our souls. Come, O Holy Spirit! Veni Creator Spiritus!

As we approach this solemn feast of Pentecost, let’s make the holy cardinal’s prayer our own, asking Him to teach us how to serve the Lord and trust in Our Lady. For more about Cardinal van Tuanh, I recommend the story at the National Catholic Register,

One final note, as we approach the feast of the Visitation this Tuesday, we reflect on the great mystery of the unborn Christ child in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary sending His Holy Spirit upon his servant and cousin, John the Baptist, while still in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. Even there, the power of the Holy Spirit caused infant John to leap with joy. Our U.S. Bishops thought this mystery of the Visitation – so closely linked to the mystery of the holiness of unborn life in the womb – would be an excellent occasion to pray a novena (nine-day sequential pray) for the protection of life. This is especially timely as the Supreme Court may soon discard the grossly unjust Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973, opening up the floodgates of possibilities for us to defend innocent unborn life. See and the parish blog for more.

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