On Friday, 31 May, the Church concluded the special Marian month of May by celebrating the feast of the visitation. As its name rightly suggests, this feast commemorates the visit of Mary to her kinswoman Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist, Christ’s forerunner.
As the Lukan gospel rightly portrays, this Marian feast is intimately connected with Jesus and his saving work. Let us not forget that Mary herself was pregnant with Jesus too! When the two women met an air of joy filled the place of their encounter. The Lukan account tells us that Elizabeth was filled with joy at the presence of Mary and Jesus who was living in her womb. Thus the text goes: “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord’” (Luke 1:41-44).
I am deeply struck by the sequence of events of this story. First, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. Second, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Third, Elizabeth proclaims that Mary is blessed over all other women. Fourth, and finally, Elizabeth proclaims Mary’s Divine Maternity by calling her “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43).
The comment given by the Swiss Catholic physician, writer and theologian, Adrienne Von Speyr (1902-1967) on this powerful event is very illuminating. In her book Mary in the Redemption, Von Speyr writes: “Once Mary has spoken her Yes and the Spirit has overshadowed her, she admits divine grace within her in the form of the Word made flesh. She herself shows, however, that this grace is meant for her, not as an end, but as a means, by going straight to Elizabeth with the child and further mediating the grace of the Incarnation to her before anyone else. Elizabeth is moved by a grace to which she can respond in nothing other than prayer and praise of Mary. But this grace is even richer: the child in her womb moves, stirred by the same grace. As this happens, Mary apprehends that she is beginning to mediate the Son and praises God that all generations will call her blessed” (p. 43).
It is clear that Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth stirs joy, communion and hope. Mary brought Jesus to Elizabeth because in her womb the incarnation of the Son of God has already kicked off by her YES. And, where Jesus is, certainly there joy reigns! And joy in abundance! Elizabeth was filled by the Holy Spirit that emanated from Jesus through Mary on her and her son John, who was in her womb. So, joy brings joy! And, this joy, was all to be found through the vehicle of a visitation!
This fascinating life experience has much to say to us who live in this third millennium. Absorbed as we are by individualism and self-seeking attitudes, we feel emptied. The more we try to achieve at the expense of excluding others the more we are finding ourselves alone, annihilated and void! A quick look at the faces of many of us would be enough to say if this is just a fiction or the stark reality. What has happened to our joy? Where has it gone? Are we really happy? Or simply we are trying to survive?
Some weeks ago I was really shocked when I heard a reportage saying that some 43.5 per cent of people answering a survey admitted that they were lonely. Such an alarming statistic by itself shows the urgent need for a holistic action. These were the words of the dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing of the University of Malta, Dr. Andrew Azzopardi. The latter also emphasized that even if today social media had brought people together in a variety of ways however, such a connection could neither provide for nor substitute that essential human contact which is so pivotal for relationships to grow healthily.
What is direly needed today in our world, society, families, Church and communities of consecrated life is precisely that of creating a family spirit once again. In his very-thought provoking catechesis of Wednesday 7 October 2015, themed The family spirit, Pope Francis, said:
“An attentive look at the everyday life of today’s men and women immediately shows the omnipresent need for a healthy injection of ‘family spirit’. Indeed, the form of the relationship — civil, economic, juridical, professional, civic — seems quite rational, formal, organized, but also very ‘dehydrated’, arid, anonymous. At times it becomes unbearable. While seeking to be inclusive in its forms, in reality it abandons more and more people to loneliness and discards them… Jesus, when he called Peter to follow him, told him that he would make him a ‘fisher of men’; and for this reason a new type of net is needed. We should say that today families are one of the most important nets for the mission of Peter and of the Church. This is not a net that takes one prisoner! On the contrary, it frees people from the cruel waters of abandonment and indifference, which drown many human beings in the sea of loneliness and indifference. Families know well the feeling of dignity conferred by being sons and daughters and not slaves, nor strangers, not just a number on an identity card”.
Let us enrich each other’s lives by visiting one another and share the value of friendship, honesty, kind-heartedness and faithfulness. Only such visits render our lives more human and so open to the divine saving grace which sanctifies us! In this sense, when we reach out to one another by visiting to help and be there for each other God’s holiness transforms us on the same basis as Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth transformed the last mentioned totally.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap