Do You Bear Christ’s Light to the World with Joy?
"During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, 'Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.'" -Luke 1:39-45
There is much to be said for the architecture on campus at the University of Notre Dame. Though some would consider the Eck Visitors’ Center the first stop as they get their map of the 1250-acre campus, many are anxious to enter the Bookstore where you can purchase much more than textbooks. However, placed between the two buildings is a statue that isn’t hard to recognize. It’s Our Lady—Notre Dame, in an all-enveloping embrace of Elizabeth, her cousin. This statue, “The Visitation,” is a replica of a sculpture created by the late Rev. Anthony Lauck, CSC.
At first I thought it was too personal a moment to be captured by a public work of art in the middle of a very open space. I thought a statue of the Visitation belonged inside a church—a sacred place where I could reflect upon its significance. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to understand that this moment in Salvation history must be made visible for all to see. It must be celebrated and promoted, prayed with and meditated upon. This blog post will guide us in a short devotion to this initial glimpse at the profound love and unity between our Lord and His Mother.
Nothing is Impossible with God
In "The Visitation: A Far Reaching Encounter," Danielle Peters writes, “Formerly commemorated on July 2, the liturgical calendar revision authorized by Bl. Pope Paul VI places the feast of the Visitation on May 31—after the Annunciation (March 25) and before the Birthday of St. John the Baptist (June 24).” The first chapter of Luke’s Gospel captures these events, emphasizing the role of Mary in the life of Christ.
The Angel Gabriel greets Mary—exalting her among women; he imparts the favor God has found in her and in her faithfulness. Though confused and frightened, Mary says “yes.” She conceded to God’s will, and the role He had ordained for the Son she would bear. Yet, the Angel Gabriel shares more with Our Lady than her own fate. He brings news of her beloved cousin, Elizabeth: she is pregnant, though she is older and had been barren. The angel affirms what we are called to believe—that nothing is impossible with God. Saint Elizabeth has served as a beacon of hope for a few of my friends who long for a child.
I have often wondered about Mary’s journey, the Visitation. Carrying the Word Made Flesh in her womb, she traveled from “Nazareth, a Galilean city west of the Sea of Galilee (see Luke 1:26). Her journey from Nazareth to the hill country of Judah covered between 80 and 100 miles” ("Explore the Life of Mary This Advent Season," Rebecca Brant). But Mary made the sojourn as many of us do when our hearts are brimming with joyful news, such as a cousin's pregnancy. The Gospel does not tell us how long the journey took. We do not know of Mary’s exhaustion, nausea or fear. But what we do know is beautiful. At the moment of their meeting, the unborn child, John “leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, 'Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'"
Elizabeth’s words ought to sound familiar, as they formed the prayer in honor of Our Lady, the cornerstone of the Rosary: “Hail Mary.” And in her cry of recognition, it becomes evident that Elizabeth would give birth to one who would pave the way for Jesus’ ministry. Elizabeth recognized Mary as the mother of our Lord, and her son, John the Baptist pointed out that Jesus was the Lamb of God, the Paschal Lamb—the symbol of Israel’s redemption. He did so with his words and his deeds. It prompts me to wonder: When have I been filled with the Holy Spirit? When have I encountered the Lord in visiting another? How do I pave the way for Jesus?
The Visitation in Our Lives
In his article “Praydreaming: Key to Discernment,” Farther Mark Thibodeaux, SJ offers us another way to pray with this beautiful moment. He writes, “This leaping prenatal John the Baptist is a good metaphor of the kind of reaction your soul has when coming into contact with the presence of the Lord in some pregnant future possibility. Your soul leaps with joy and excitement!”
Thibodeaux affirms that God has dreams for us! We are called to sit in loving silence and let God speak to us; he refers to that act, a spiritual discipline, as “praydreaming.” The Visitation provides us with questions about our own lives. Where might you come into contact with God in the future? Does your soul feel joy? Does life leap within you as you envision a particular possibility?
In the way that love begets love, joy begets joy. Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s embrace in Luke’s Gospel is her Canticle, which is referred to as “The Magnificat” (Lk 1:46-55).
What a wondrous prayer—one we ought to pray regularly. It speaks to the power of God, God’s goodness, Mary’s faith and more. This is the prayer I can’t help but offer when I see the sculpture of The Visitation at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He 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.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
Hail Mary, full of grace!