“Truly, truly, I say to you, except anyone be born from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) “Do not wonder that I said to you, ‘It is necessary for you all to be born from above.’” (John 3:7)
Question: When Jesus explains to Nicodemus that we need to be born again of the Holy Spirit, does this mean that there is a gestation time and a time when we have been born, and are out of the womb? If we are supposed to spend this gestation time in Mary does this mean that afterwards, i.e. when we have been born, we are supposed to be on our own, outside of Mary?
We have understand that we have to always live in Mary’s heart in order to receive the Holy Spirit there and grow there – for our good and that of others. That that was the most charitable thing to do until we are born of her into Eternal Life. Does all our spiritual life play out in her heart until we die? Even our life on earth after Union with Him?
Answer: Regarding us and Mary’s Heart, it is important to understand its meaning for us in a deep and more complete way.
What, then, does “Heart” or “Immaculate Heart” mean in practical terms for us?
One can stop at the outer part of the expression “heart” and not get the exact meaning of it and its implications. Similarly, one can stop at the emotional symbol of “heart” and not go beyond it. In this light it might mean something specific to a person, such as love, affection, spiritual cuddle, protection, purity.
I think, however, that we need to go deeper and here the master to consult is St. John of the Cross. In fact, St. John of the Cross takes the distinction made by St. Paul between the old man and the new man (or new creature) and develops the spiritual understanding of it. Since his mission is to explain spiritual life, he focuses his attention on our way of reacting to God’s grace and conversely on the ways the grace of God acts within us.
He has a deep understanding of what is at stake in Spiritual Life and of what is not simply “conversion” only, i.e. turning our attention from God’s creatures to God himself. He understands that there is a hidden aspect, albeit always present, that determines whether we are doing the right thing and growing or not, something that doesn’t depend on the Holy Spirit, but on us. The way we correspond to the action of the Holy Spirit is vital and decisive. He believes deeply that the Holy Spirit wants to work in us in his own way. But he is perfectly aware that the Holy Spirit is not free to work his way in us and through us. He is aware that there are different levels of “impurities” that prevent the Holy Spirit from working in us. We need to be purified at different levels.
There is a very recurrent topic in his writings, which should become our modality of working (or better said: the way or modality in which we are most likely to correspond to the action of the Holy Spirit). This point is fundamental in his teaching, and in a way, we can say that the entire body of his teaching leans on it. Even if our dealings are with God, we start by acting in a very human way, i.e. we start to correspond to his grace in a very human way. Think of Peter who vehemently rejects the fact that Jesus has to suffer and die. Think of Peter who thinks that his good will is enough to make him follow Jesus through his Passion. Peter is not aware that he is still human and that he hasn’t yet been transformed by the Holy Spirit. This means that Peter’s way of corresponding to the action of the Holy Spirit is still human! God, Jesus, are his goal in life; he decided to answer Jesus’ Call; he gave away everything for the sake of Jesus; but he is not aware that he is still exceedingly human in his way of corresponding to the grace of God.
He is like a pregnant woman with twins, the Old Man and the New Man. One needs to continue to grow and the other one as a consequence slowly diminishes and dies. Old Man and New Man means “the way one acts”. It is not an entity, a being, it is the way we think, want and desire. The way our conscious and supra-conscious faculties act: our mind, our will and our memory.
St. John of the Cross underlines clearly that our initial way of dealing with Jesus is low, short, weak, full of impurities. He shows how it is called to be transformed in order to become divine. Our way of acting needs to be purified and divinised! Who does this? The Holy Spirit.
The period of gestation in spiritual life is the long period where the Holy Spirit purifies us, i.e. transforms the way our faculties at both levels (conscious and supra-conscious, i.e. Soul and Spirit) work. He takes them from a human way of functioning (human mode) to a divine way.
The above is the development that St. John of the Cross made of the Paulinian doctrine of the “Old Man” and the “New Man”. He coined the expressions “human mode” and “divine mode”, and also described the different stages of this transformation led by the Holy Spirit.
“Baptism” and “New Man”
What is the relationship between “Baptism” and “New Man”? It is very important to see the deep link of the Paulinian Doctrine of Old Man vs New Man and the normal teaching on Baptism.
The traditional doctrine of the Church on Baptism can be found in the Decrees of the Council of Trent and the actual Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Here follows the actual text from the Catechism. As we can notice it is clearly stated that Baptism makes of us a “A new creature”.
“Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1265)
Then the Catechism develops even more the reality of this “New Creature”:
“The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:
– enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues;
– giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
– allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.
Thus the whole organism of the Christian’s supernatural life has its roots in Baptism.” (1266)
It is important to add that the new reality, the divine life that God deposits in us, can be compared to a seed! How come? Because the human being and all aspects of his growth remain free: education, learning, choices made by his educators, his own choices, going through all the stages of human development, toddler, child, pre-adolescent, adolescent, post-adolescent, young adult and lastly adult. At any stage of his spiritual growth he can choose to follow the normal growth of the Divine Seed of Baptism in himself or follow other ways of acting. He can feed the New Man or the Old Man. He is fundamentally free!
As we saw, the traditional doctrine of Baptism states that amongst other things we receive through it are the infused theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. We can say that we receive the pure and divine modality of working with our mind, will and memory. We can use it; it is at our disposal.
In this sense, when St. John of the Cross meets the adult receiving Jesus’ Call to follow Him, he is well aware of the complexity of the reality of this person, the good Seed and the Weed are in the same field, the same heart! The New modality is there (often dormant) and the Old Modality could very well have become the ruler.
Note: when we say that in the human being the “Old Man” is largely prevalent, this doesn’t necessarily mean that when the person is using the “Old Man” or the “Human mode” of acting he is sinning! It is just that the “human mode” of interacting with the Holy Spirit is very narrow, short, low or weak. It can’t really react a great deal. To put it graphically: “a bicycle cannot fly and reach the moon! Only a rocket can”! The human mode is the bicycle. It needs to be transformed.
Even after confession, when we are pure again, it doesn’t mean that our capacity for interacting with the Holy Spirit has been transformed. A deeper working of the Holy Spirit in us, on both conscious and supra-conscious levels, is needed.
Of course, the “human mode” can easily lead to sin, but in itself it is not first and foremost a sin, but a very human and reduced capacity of dealing with God. The old skin has to become a new skin, the first three soils need to become the “Good Soil”.
It is important, now, to move on from measuring all our Christian life with the criterium of being in a state of grace or not. We can very well be in the state of Grace and still be acting more with the “old man” in us! Activating the supernatural organism in us (the virtues of faith, hope and love) in a divine way is something else altogether. This is not something that can be explained by Moral Theology. This is simply impossible. This distinction and work can only be understood and measured by a deep Spiritual Theology.
The Gospel has two Poles
As a conclusion from the above, we start to see that the Lord’s teaching has two poles! The Gospel itself shows them, especially from the beginning of the discourse with Parables (Mt. 13, Mk. 4)! The Lord in fact brings about a huge shift. After having offered to the World his main teaching (the Sermon on the Mount, Mt. 5-7) He switches his teaching from Mt. 13 onward to paying attention to the subject of his teaching, the human being and how he is receiving his teaching. In fact, the parable of the Sower is the embodiment of this new stage in the Lord’s Teaching. He focuses not on the Seed, or the New Wine of his teaching, but on the Soil, the Skin. Is the human being capable of really acting purely? This is where the new teaching is introduced, the teaching on the “Good Soil”.
We can say that in Baptism we not only receive the Holy Trinity itself, finding our new dwelling place in it, i.e. in the Son, facing the Father, in the communion of the Holy Spirit, but we also receive the divine capacity to do so, to deal with the Holy Trinity. Because it is not enough to receive God, we also need to receive the capacity to deal with Him purely and divinely.
When the Priest asks the godparents at the beginning of the ceremony of Baptism: what are you asking the Church for? The answer is: “Faith”! How come? Because faith is the beginning of Eternal Life in us, Divine Life in us. Because Faith can obtain everything. In this sense, we need to be aware that in fact, in Baptism we receive the “new divine mode of dealing with God. But it won’t work automatically, it needs to be activated all the time! Hence the necessity of Christian Education (called Catechesis): it is meant to help us not just be fed with a new understanding of Life, but it is also meant to help us learn how to activate the Theological Virtues! Which is not always done!
So, in one statement we can say that in Baptism “we receive the Object of Faith (the Trinity) and the Subject of Faith (the Divine Mode)”. We profess the two poles of our life: God and the divine capacity to deal with Him.
How and where is Mary situated in this doctrine?
Let us say that what we stated above are the main elements that will help us understand Mary’s place in our Christian life, in Baptism, in Spiritual Life, in Prayer, in Daily Life.
To start with Christian Tradition, the dogmatic one and the liturgical one, understood the Good Soil of the parable of the Sower as being Mary herself.
St. Luke saw and shows us that only Mary is capable of believing. The Catechism states that She is the perfect embodiment of our faith, its archetype. John Paul II said that her faith becomes our faith.
In this sense we can say that all what St. John of the Cross described and developed in St. Paul’s Doctrine of the New Man can in fact be summed up as Mary’s mode. When we talk about Mary’s Immaculate Heart, we are in fact following the description of St. Paul and also of St. John of the Cross about the pure and divine mode of reacting to the Holy Spirit.
Mary’s “heart” means her divine capacity to live on faith, with Hope and in Love, that is, divinely. Mary’s mind (conscious and supra-conscious) works divinely. This is our faith! This is what we mean when we say: “Immaculate Heart of Mary”.
When we say that we need to dwell in “Mary’s Heart,” what we mean is not a physical dwelling, since our body is very big materially compared to her heart! What we mean is something very deep! By this we mean that we want our dealings with God to be not ours, not our human way, or half spiritual one, but purely Mary’s one! In order to reach the Moon (to deal with Jesus) I need not the bicycle of my human mode, but Mary’s Rocket, her capacity. Her Eyes and Her Heart have been given to me, for the pure theological virtues that I received in Baptism have already been given to me! Mary’s capacity has already been given to me and is dormant in me! It needs to be awakened by the Holy Spirit and needs, step by step, to be the only working way in me of my mind, will and memory.
It is not optional for us to do so!
Entering Mary’s Womb
When Nicodemus asks Jesus how can one enter his mother’s womb again, he is asking the main baptismal question: how can one not only be baptised but also understand what is at stake in his baptism, that is, having received Mary, and stay faithful to its new workings: stay voluntarily in Her workings – her way of working.
During the Work of Rebirth enacted by the Holy Spirit in us (the Gestation Period) He develops Mary in us, her Faith, her Hope and her Love. In this way all the Old Man that is left in us is transformed and changed into the New Man – Mary’s working in us.
In a way, can we ever be separated from the divine working, Mary’s mode? Never. We should remain in it. This is especially true because even when the work is finished, we are still free, and we can choose! And we need to continue to choose Mary’s Way. St. Thérèse’s way of dealing with Our Lady at the end of her life, for example, reveals the simplicity inherent in doing so as she shows us the way of behaving with Mary. She shows us how Mary is present and how she still prefers to entrust things to Mary instead of leaning on her own judgment! She even has the delicate manner of not asking Jesus something directly because she knows that He will oblige! But she prefers to choose what is according to God’s Wisdom and not hers! Thus, she entrusts her request to Mary saying that if Mary considers it as being according to God’s will, then yes please, send the request to God.
She knew that, at Mary’s level of intimacy with Jesus, He would feel forced to oblige. Her delicate Love prefers the purity of God’s Wisdom, asking Mary to sort it according to God’s Wisdom, and not “forcing” Jesus to do it!
When she receives Communion, she asks Mary to come to her and dwell in her (not that Mary has ever left her) and asks her to receive Jesus, so He has the impression that he has come into Mary’s Heart and not Thérèse’s! Mind you, she is so transformed into Mary that reading some of her last statements makes one’s head spin.
Many mystics have also added while describing Union with Jesus, that the Nuptial Chamber is Mary herself. In addition, we could say that at this level of purity (deep purification) and adornment (spiritual engagement) the person is transformed in Mary. So, in a way, the Soul has acquired a resemblance to Mary herself and her purity, and the dwelling place (the nuptial chamber or bed) is also Mary herself.
So, coming back to the initial question: “Can we ever remove ourselves from Mary after having being formed?” the answer is: the goal of the gestation period is to become Mary-Like, and the “place” to which we remove ourselves is still Mary, a more perfect Mary.
In a way, Mary’s Faith will lead us to the place of the “Eighth” Day, the day without dawn. We enter the New Jerusalem, Mary Herself, where, as St. John states, only God dwells, where the only light is God’s Light and the Lamb’s Light. (see Revelation 21-22).
We are meant to go through the Narrow Door of Mary, to continue to walk in the narrow path that is also Mary, and we leave the narrow path directly in the New Jerusalem, that is also Mary.
The Shepherd, Jesus, leads us, makes us go through his narrow door, and then makes us come out into the Divine Barn.
“But the one entering in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice. And he calls the own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. […] I am the door. If anyone enters in by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and will go out and will find pasture. […] I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10)
The above text doesn’t talk about Mary, this is true. But it is a profound text and can be developed in profound ways. St. John says that it is a hidden text: “Jesus spoke to them this allegory*, but they did not know what it was that He was saying to them.” (John 10:6)
* The Greek word used here is “Paroimia” which means “a cryptic saying, an allegory; a proverb, figurative discourse”.
“Nicodemus says to Him [Jesus], “How is a man able to be born, being old? Is he able to enter into the womb of his mother a second time, and to be born?”” (John 3:4)
What a mystery is hidden in these words!
Easter Tide 2020