We conclude the Marian month of May with the beautiful feast of Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth. What looks on the surface like a simple social visit of two pregnant relatives is actually a profound and mysterious event – which is why we ponder the Visitation when we pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

This year, the Visitation falls within the days of our Novena to the Holy Spirit. In a sense, this moment is like a preview of Pentecost, for the Holy Spirit descends with power on the home of Zechariah. Like at Pentecost, when Mary was with the Apostles, also at the Visitation, the Spirit works through Mary, his favorite missionary, the humble woman whom he has “overshadowed” so that she may give birth to the Son of God. No one can see the Spirit, but his action becomes obvious to Elizabeth and her unborn son. Since at this time Jesus was still a tiny embryo in Mary’s womb, no one could see him either, for Mary did not yet look pregnant. It was Elizabeth’s son who first sensed the presence of the Savior. When the sound of Mary’s greeting reached Elizabeth’s ears, John leaped for joy.

St. Ambrose has a wonderful description of this moment: “Elizabeth is the first to hear Mary’s voice, but John is the first to be aware of grace. She hears with the ears of the body, but he leaps for joy at the meaning of the mystery. She is aware of Mary’s presence, but he is aware of the Lord’s: a woman aware of a woman’s presence, the forerunner aware of the pledge of our salvation. The women speak of the grace they have received, while the children are active in secret, unfolding the mystery of love with the help of their mothers, who prophesy by the spirit of their sons” (cf. Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Dec. 21).

This is the moment when the prophecy of the archangel Gabriel about John was fulfilled: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15). As the baby stirred in her womb, Elizabeth too was filled with the Holy Spirit, and given a gift of immediate intuitive knowledge that Mary is pregnant, and that Mary’s Son is the Lord. Elizabeth is humbled by the privilege she has received. She knows she does not deserve such a visit, so she says, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

The profound communication between these two pregnant mothers and their two unborn sons opens our eyes to the sublime dignity of unborn children. Since we live in an age that denies that dignity, and sometimes even denies the humanity of the unborn, we need this enlightenment. Unborn children – newly conceived, like Jesus, or at the end of the second trimester, like John – are facing horrifying threats to their lives: abortion and abortifacient drugs, research which destroys human embryos in the name of progress, government restrictions on family size, and a widespread anti-child mentality. Everyone celebrating the Visitation must realize that every child is a unique and precious gift of God. Unborn children are human persons, very much alive even as embryos, and capable of receiving and cooperating with the grace of God.

This feast also moves us to recall the special dignity of pregnant women. A pregnant woman is in a unique position in the world because, at least for nine months, she is the dwelling place of another distinct human person. When we meet her, we meet one person whom we see and another person who lives in secret within her. The unborn child depends entirely on the mother. The mother depends on the people around her, to support her through the various stages of her pregnancy.

Mary’s pregnancy is unique, since she was chosen to be the “God-bearer” (Theotokos). When we meet her, we meet the Lord hidden within her, just as Elizabeth and John did. However, Mary’s pregnancy also shows us something about ourselves. By the power of the Holy Spirit, each one of us has become the dwelling place of someone else: God dwells within us. “Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” This is most obvious when we receive the Eucharist. Each of us is truly a God-bearer, spiritually “pregnant” with God. We carry the presence of God into the world, even though no one can see him, just as no one could see Jesus in the womb of Mary. If Elizabeth was humbled to realize that Mary came to visit her, how much more must we be humbled by the privilege of bearing Christ within us. As we approach the moment of receiving Holy Communion, we ask, “How does this happen to me, that the Lord himself should come to me?”

In a mysterious way, God makes himself dependent on us. If we speak or act or go to visit someone in need, so does God; if we do not go, in a certain sense, neither does God, because he wants to act through us. He visits people through us. For this reason, we need to keep developing our awareness of what God wants to do in us, what he wants to do through us, what he wants us to do for him, where he wants us to take him. We are not alone. We are not even the primary actors in all we do. We are – if we are willing to be his “lowly servants” – instruments of God in the world, as Mary was.

Mary is the perfect model of how we are to bear Christ to the world. In her inspired canticle, the Magnificat, she shows us the inner disposition of a God-bearer: joy, gratitude, and humility. Her spirit is full of praise of God, for “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.” On this her feast, let us ask Mary to teach us how to be like her, lowly servants of the Lord who faithfully and joyfully bear the presence of God into the world.

Am I sensitive to what God wants to do in me at the present moment? How do I bring joy to others, especially the sick, the elderly, and the forgotten ones? How do I respond to the presence of God in my life and the life of others?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.