Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Visitation: Let Mary's Soul Be In You

In his Gospel, Saint Luke relates that after the Annunciation, Mary “went in haste” to see her kinswoman, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (cf. Luke 1:39-56). This is the event that is at the heart of the Feast of the Visitation (celebrated on May 31). And yet, as with so many of the Church’s festive celebrations, the significance of the Feast of the Visitation extends well beyond a simple remembering of past event.

The Visitation
by Romare Bearden

In the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, we are presented with two women who are living in expectation. Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, and Mary, carrying God within her, embody the hopes and expectations of Israel. Theirs was a waiting full of promise: “People who have to wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow” (Henri Nouwen, from the essay “A Spirituality of Waiting”). This kind of waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. Rather, it is a movement from something to something more.

In God's own time, God called the patriarchs and prophets, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so many others, to prepare the way for his Son (cf. Dei Verbum, 3; Hebrews 1:1-2). And, in Mary and her Child, the promises and longings of countless generations were finally being fulfilled: “from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times… He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock” (Micah 5:1, 3a). 

Mary teaches us how to receive the Word of God: "She exhorts us, first of all, to humility, so that God can find a space in our heart not darkened by pride or arrogance. She points out to us the value of silence, which knows how to listen to the song of the Angels and the crying of the Child, not stifling them by noise and confusion. Together with her, we stop before the Nativity scene with intimate wonder, savoring the simple and pure joy that this Child gives to humanity” (Blessed John Paul II, Angelus, December 21, 2003).

But, there is yet another dimension to the Feast of the Visitation: we also honor the spirit of service, diakonia, of Mary. Mary's generous care for Elizabeth anticipates the same spirit of service that should be the hallmark of the Church, which is sent especially to the poor. Just as in Mary, the Lord is brought forward to visit his people (cf. Zephaniah 3:14-18), the Church brings Christ to the poor and forgotten, sharing with them the truth of God’s abiding love and presence. This is the overarching theme of Mary’s great hymn of praise, the Magnificat, which she sings in response to Elizabeth’s greeting: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior… He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty…” (cf. Luke 1:46-55). It is in this great hymn, which the Church sings every day at the time of Evening Prayer, that Mary "first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God's universal favors, bestowed unceasingly on the human race" (Saint Bede the Venerable).

Although we may have a tendency to sentamentalize the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, we should keep in mind the great gift of salvation that is at the heart of this mystery and feast: "The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear" (Zephaniah 3:15b). Each of us is entrusted with the task to take the same Christ who dwells in our hearts, minds, and souls out into the world: "Let Mary's soul be in each of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord" (Saint Ambrose of Milan).

Prayer for the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary +
Almighty ever-living God,
who, while the Blessed Virgin Mary was carrying your Son in her womb,
inspired her to visit Elizabeth,
grant us, we pray,
that, faithful to the promptings of the Spirit,
we may magnify your greatness
with the Virgin Mary at all times.
Through our Christ our Lord. Amen.

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