The Feast of the Visitation

[Scripture Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Lk l:39-56]

Fr. DavidThere used to be a poster up someplace in the monastery that said “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” I had a personal poster which said “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” (The message finally sank in and I threw that one away.) Both posters articulated an unavoidable truth about human life. We may have our plans and our projects and ideas, but a deeper and more powerful current can sweep them away without our consent. It may be something as simple as planning a trip or a picnic, and then having to cope with sudden illness or a heavy rain. It may be more serious as counting on a pension for retirement, and then being fired before any benefits can apply. The spouse you hoped to live with into old age may die while still young. “What happens to us” is usually more influential than the fruits of our own effort.

Mary and Elizabeth, the two main protagonists of this morning’s Gospel, both had their lives, their plans, and their expectations. These were largely shaped and limited by the Jewish culture into which they were born. The meaning of their lives and their social identification were defined by what was normal in their milieu.

The Human CrossIn a more pluralistic culture, it may be hard for us to grasp the significance of what it would mean to be ostracized from such a highly-defined social context. And yet, what “happened” to both Elizabeth and Mary did stigmatize them. Fecundity and fruitfulness were signs of God’s blessing and favor, both for the person and the whole people. The inverse was true: those without children were in some way cursed. “She who was called barren” was probably called a lot more names, to her face and behind her back. Mary, who had mysteriously conceived a child, was more than an embarrassment to her betrothed. In the scene of the visitation, Elizabeth’s sufferings were largely behind her; Mary’s sufferings were yet to come. It is astonishing to begin to wonder at what must have been going on in Elizabeth’s life. She could easily have become embittered, blamed her husband, her family, her God. At the worst, she could have lost her sense of her self, of her own worth in God’s eyes. Tolkein has the phrase “His grief he did not forget, but it did not darken his heart. It taught him wisdom.” That must have been true of Elizabeth: her grief, and her suffering did not darken her heart, but taught her wisdom.

Her own experience created the ability in her to resound from within at the sound of Mary’s greeting. She was capable of being addressed, by Mary and by God. She uttered the macarism,”Blessed are you who believed the things said to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” out of her own experience. These were two women who knew what it is to live from the promise of God. God’s promise for them was not some vague concept or fantasy. God’s promise is God himself, living with us. It is His presence, hidden yet at work. His promise is an intense and intimate appeal to trust that he is at work even in those deep currents which seem to wash away all our plans and expectations. The promise of God is addressed to an inviolable center of the heart which believes that what God has said will be fulfilled. What is the promise spoken to us by God? What is the promise which gives us knowledge of Him and His life?

The Feast of the Visitation

[Scripture Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Lk 1:39-56]

Fr. StephenOnce there was a five year old boy who loved to play Superman. Every morning he took his little red cape, swung it over his shoulders like a cappa magna, and packed his days with adventure and daring escapades. One day at the end of summer his mother enrolled him in kindergarten. A teacher asked him, “What is your name?” “Superman,” he answered without pausing. The teacher smiled, cast an amused glance at his mother, and asked again, “What is your real name?” He replied politely but with conviction and insistence, “Superman!” Realizing the situation required careful handling the teacher closed her eyes for a moment, then in a very kind voice she said, “I really need your true name for our records.” Seeing he had to tell her, the boy looked around the room, and indicated that he wanted to whisper in her ear. She bent down and he said with utmost secrecy, “Clark Kent.”

Mary of Nazareth never heard of Superman or Starwars or television’s boy-crazy teenage girl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But like us, the people of her time desired a greater power to overcome evil. They were waiting for someone who wasn’t corrupted, someone who would strike a fatal blow to the serpent’s head with his heel.

The Visitation of Mary to ElizabethThe imaginations of young Jewish girls after puberty did not dream of becoming Amazons or of raising superman. They mused about weddings and the remote possibility of fulfilling prophecies, of becoming mother of the Messiah. Mary of Nazareth had no such pretensions of greatness. She was from a town so poor even tax collectors didn’t bother going there. Nothing good was expected from Nazareth. She also had another kind of emptiness, a virginal inner space like an infinite womb that had never experienced the intrusion of fallen man’s effusions. She was capax Dei, ready to receive the free gift of God’s self, and she could not contain her joy when she did.

In a poem titled The Quickening of John the Baptist, Thomas Merton describes Mary’s journey to Elizabeth: Virgin of God, why are your clothes like sails? … You have trusted no town with the news behind your eyes. You have drowned Gabriel’s word in thoughts like seas. … The day Our Lady, full of Christ, enters the dooryard of her relative … her salutation sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell and the unborn saint John wakes in his mother’s body.

The subtitle of Merton’s poem is On the Contemplative Vocation. The joy bursting from Mary is not spilled over busy fishing boats and farms, or before gossiping women at the well and guffawing men in the market place. It is carried by a word from her mouth into the silence of those who are listening. Merton addresses St. John: “Sing in your cell, small anchorite! … Oh burning joy! What seas of life were planted by that voice … [to] know her cloistered Christ. … Your joy is the vocation of … hidden children … the speechless Trappist, the grey, granite Carthusian, the quiet Carmelite, the barefoot Clare, planted in the night of contemplation, sealed in the dark and waiting to be born.”

The VisitationMerton continues, “Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry … we are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners with hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand; waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror. … But in the days, rare days, when our Theotokos … appears upon our mountain with her clothes like sails, then, like the wise, wild baby, the unborn John who could not see a thing we wake and know the Virgin Presence [and] receive her Christ into our night … in the flame of God’s dark fire … washed in His gladness … we burn … and bound and bounce with happiness, leap in the womb, our cloud, our faith, our element, our contemplation, our anticipated heaven …”

At the end of summer the uncontained joy of five year old Superman ended with the questions and amused looks of a kindergarten teacher. Joyful visits like summers come to an end. As Sr. Susan Wood, quoting Cardinal Benadine, said last evening, “The Church is a community not only of celebration but of struggle.” When Mary journeyed home there was no mention of haste, or clothes like sails. She returned to the questioning looks of Joseph and perhaps the amused glances of neighbors. The uncontained joy of the Virgin God-bearer, of Theotokos, Mother of the Messiah, ended with a heart pierced by seven swords of sorrow. The small anchorite, John, left the solitude and silence of his mother’s warm womb after nine cloistered months. Always an anchorite, he returned years later to the contemplative desert and experienced “stabs of intelligence as white as lightening,” until the day he was torn out of earth’s womb to die under the axe of King Herod in a prison cell. The summertime of Jesus also came to an end with questions, laughter, mockery and cries for his crucifixion.

Superman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer win all their battles without scars, but the communion of Christians its life by losing it.

2. Capax Dei, an expression of St. Irenaeus indicating the capability of being receptive of God.

3. Thomas Merton, Tears of the Blind Lions, New Directions, NY, 1949, 8.

4. Theotokos, a term used at the Council of Ephesus for Mary as God bearer, “Mother of God.”

Thanks to Hermanoleon Clipart.

The Feast of the Visitation

[Scripture Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Lk 1:39-56]

Fr. Daniel
We rejoice today in honor of Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth as Holy Mother Church wants all her children to share in the joy that permeated the two mothers-to-be, Mary and Elizabeth. We can surely comprehend in some small way the joy of Mary’s and Elizabeth’s pregnancies, Mary with Jesus, and Elizabeth with John. It is only other mothers who can fully share in some manner that meeting and its joys.

And the joy of the two infants in the wombs stealing, as it were, the premier action as the voice of Elizabeth relates, “At the sound of your voice the child in my womb leaped for joy.” The Holy Spirit surmounted the whole quartet with indescribable blessings.

St. John Chrysostom, in one of his sermons, addressed John in the womb: “John, what was it like? What did you see? Did your ears listen to the conversation? Did you recognize Jesus?” Someone asked St. John Chrysostom, “How is it that you took it upon yourself to question John?” He said, “Why not? He who created all things in wondrous ways ought to be capable of making such a dialogue between two infants possible. I thought to say something new.”

The VisitationElizabeth said, “Blessed are you amongst all women for you have believed that what was told you by the Lord would be fulfilled. Mary, full of grace as the angel declared, the Holy Spirit overshadowing her, was given the wherewithal to believe without a doubt, without a question, the message regarding Jesus’ birthing. Her “Fiat. Let it be done unto me as you have said,” was final.

We, in this enlightened age, which is not so enlightened as to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, might well imitate the belief of Mary and Elizabeth who were strong in their acquiescence to the will of God, and offer prayers with the confidence that exuded from those two women. That is, our petitions ought to be totally given without anything that could be taken as doubtful of fulfillment. Let us have total reliance on God, and then we can one day write our own Magnificat.

Thanks to Hermanoleon Clipart.

The Feast of the Visitation

[Scripture Readings: Zeph 3: 14-18a; Lk 1: 39-56 ]

I’ve got a secret. It’s for me to know and for you to find out. How petulant can you get? This is hardly the way to win friends and influence people. If two or more know, it might not be a secret very long. Yet one can remain obtuse and disclose no further information about the nature of the subject.

The Visitation
In this morning’s Gospel, Mary had a secret. For the time being it could have remained that way. What could she have possibly said after receiving such a revelation from an angelic messenger? “All of a sudden, my heart sings.” How could she contain herself? She had heard a secret that affected the whole human race. What could impel her to send her charging over hill and dale for a relative understanding of the event? What would be more natural than to confide in one whom she could trust to fathom her position? She was very young and her adviser had the wisdom that normally comes with age. And both were in the same condition, for the first time realizing a birth of a child in the course of time. Common grounds for mutual encouragement would make the friendship stronger. The very presence of each other would only bolster what they already knew and felt.

“Our God comes; he keeps silence no longer.” Eventually Jesus will deliver the message of God’s justice and mercy. He would reveal to others things they perhaps would like to remain secret. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the morality of personal behavior. The way we stand before God, our neighbor and our own self has eternal repercussions. We have been given the chance to live our faith unhindered by governmental restrictions. Sheer gratitude for everything offered us is a real form of thanksgiving and should never remain a secret.