On Sunday, we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Today we ponder an earlier event in which the Spirit was already active, not in public display overflowing from the Upper Room, but in secret, in the hidden world of the womb. We celebrate the joyful visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. It is a kind of Pentecost event for Elizabeth and for her unborn son, John the Baptist. This is the famous event known as The Visitation, which is also the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. As Mary visited Elizabeth, she also visits us and brings us into the presence of Jesus. She who is “blessed because she believed” wants us all to believe with her and to be blessed with her.
Today’s Gospel is the source of a part of the Hail Mary, the prayer in which we echo Elizabeth’s words to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” This greeting, addressed to Mary, points to the centrality of Jesus Christ and to the vital connection between him and his mother. Mary is “blessed among women” because Jesus, the “fruit of her womb,” is the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. When Elizabeth finds herself in the presence of God-made-flesh in the womb of her young cousin, the baby in her own womb dances with joy. She is suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit, and her first words are, “Most blessed are you!”
On this Feast, we are led to reflect on the mystery of the interior life. Pregnancy is a physical experience of a secret life. A pregnant woman knows and is constantly aware that she is carrying another life within her, hidden from the eyes of the world, hidden in the womb. As the two pregnant women meet, their two unborn children also meet, but on a level only the mothers can sense – though they are also aware that the mystery of God at work in them is far beyond their understanding.
When we reflect on our own interior life, we are actually reflecting on the divine life hidden within us. God truly dwells in us; we are temples of the Holy Spirit. If the gift of pregnancy places many additional responsibilities on a mother – how she should live, what she can and cannot do, how she takes care of herself and her unborn child – how much more does the gift of the presence of God within us place responsibilities on us! We are not independent agents, free to do as we please; we are bearers of a precious, hidden gift that must not be neglected.
The joy that comes from being with God, from having God present in our hearts, is a dynamic joy. It impels us to reach out beyond ourselves. Mary is not forced to visit Elizabeth; she “traveled in haste” because she is overflowing with joy, leaping for joy. John leaps in the womb for the same reason. We too should leap for joy at the presence of God. This is the dynamic joy that the prophet Zephaniah proclaims in the first reading. Indeed, his words apply to us all: “Be glad and exult with all your heart” for “the LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty Savior!”
Mary’s joy is expressed in her song, the Magnificat. She acknowledges that she is blessed, but it is only because God who is mighty has done great things for her. Once she says this, she says no more about her herself, turning her attention wholly to God and his ways. God “has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” The Magnificat is the song of the weak and the poor who experience the goodness of God. It is the song of the anawim who discover the joy of depending on God. He pours out his favor upon the poor. Because Mary is the poorest, the weakest, and the most humble, God favors her most of all. She invites us to be anawim with her – to be poor in spirit and dependent on God. As we joyfully celebrate this Feast, may we follow the way of Mary, the way of littleness, of poverty of spirit, so that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and joyfully bring the presence of Christ to everyone we meet.
When have I experienced a “visitation” in my life? As a bearer of the precious gift of God within me, what means am I taking to make this life flourish? Experiencing the joy of the Lord within, how do I reach out to share this joy with others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.