Today, we see conflict in the sacred liturgy. We are still in the Easter season but today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, realizing that the first signs of Christmas are nudging up against the ongoing celebration of the Resurrection.
This happens occasionally in the liturgical year because we have to scramble so many different celebrations, spread over 2,000 years, in a mere 365 days. Today is one of those days. The Church stops and remembers a beautiful scene in the life of our Blessed Mother when she went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. The day has been called the Feast of the Visitation. How many times have we been praying the rosary in a rather distracted fashion and one by one we ticked off the joyful mysteries. Speaking only for myself, I know that I would call out the title, “The Visitation,” but most of the time could not get my mind around it all that clearly. Let’s try today.
Mary is a very young girl, probably only 16 or 17, and she has just had this extraordinary message from an angel telling her, and she is a virgin, that she is going to carry a child and that this child would be, in some sense, the Savior. If that astonishing message was not enough, Gabriel also tells Mary that her older cousin who lives outside of Jerusalem is also six months pregnant. The text tells us that “Mary set out…in haste into the hill country to a town of Judah where Elizabeth and Zachariah were living.”
Okay, so much for the text. Let’s try to visualize that – a young girl who had plans for her life suddenly finds them extraordinarily changed in a mysterious way that she does not understand and that, in some sense, her cousin, Elizabeth, is involved in the same overall program. In the text, we know nothing of any companions so we can assume that Mary went alone on country roads to find her beloved relative. Imagine how her mind must have been spinning trying to figure out the whole thing. Even though she did not understand everything that was going on, she had a consuming faith that motivated her to respond positively to the message she had received from the angel. Her faith is made stronger when she comes into Elizabeth’s house. When Mary was in Elizabeth’s presence the as yet unborn John the Baptist stirred in his mother’s womb and Elizabeth, being filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Who I am that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Like the average person who grew up a Roman Catholic, I probably said that line in the Hail Mary a million or two times. Would that I could say what Elizabeth has said. Would that I could mean it with clarity and a profound faith. Every time we receive communion, what is true of Elizabeth is true of each one of us. Who am I that the Lord should come to me? Domine, non sum dignus. Lord, I am not worthy. While it would be normal to be overcome with awe, an even better response is a joyful acceptance of this central point of our faith. God loves us, he has visited us, he invites us, he is with us, he is within us.