The Visitation, Ghirlandaio 1491, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
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Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Luke 1:41-42
In Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of his movie The Man Who Knew Too Much, the heroine, played by Doris Day, sang a song which became much more famous than the film, but which neither Hitch nor Doris wanted to make! Que Sera, Sera became her theme tune. It meant, of course Whatever Will Be, Will Be. So it could, in a sense, be an Advent carol. Today’s readings all seem to be talking about hopes for a better future. Advent looks exclusively ahead. What it will bring is up to us; but God has planted the seeds for a world where we, of our own free will, can harvest a future of happiness and security. Elizabeth is a much older woman than Mary, as all Visitation paintings faithfully show (look above). She was thought to be barren, but had conceived in her old age, and was to give birth to John, known as The Baptist. He was to be the one to herald Jesus’ arrival. In the Old Testament, barren women are quite a theme. The most famous is probably Sarai, who became Sarah, who conceived in her 90s, for nothing is impossible for God. Her son Isaac, was the person who was to carry God’s message forward from his father Abraham and eventually result in the Chosen People of God, the Hebrews, into whom Jesus himself was born. So the mission of God’s will being carried forward, first with the Jews, then worldwide with Jesus’ message, both heavily involved women society had deemed unworthy, being barren being a heavy liability in those days. The gospel also says the Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb at the proximity of Mary’s babe, the first recognition of Jesus as the long-promised Messiah of God.
There is one more thought, which sort of springs from that last thought. There is a line in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.’ God says elsewhere that the divine will is not the same as human will, that God’s way is not like our way, unless of course we agree to try and follow it. Human will is, indeed, very different. Probably the greatest propaganda film ever created is called Triumph of the Will. The will it is talking about in this case is not God’s will, but Hitler’s. It shows how overwhelmingly easy it is to forget your own will to be swept up by the crystal clear emotion of the crowd subordinating all they are to that man. It is intoxicating and utterly evil. But looking at the film it is possible at least to come to some understanding how it could have happened. On the other hand, a visit to Lourdes permits a little of the totally opposite intoxication, this time to the all-embracing will of God. Here you can witness the faith and hope of both the ill and the healthy (who completely outnumber those who are in distress). It is said that the miracle of Lourdes is the strengthened faith of all the pilgrims who leave to return home. So there is a clear choice when it comes to will. There are have been numbers of other Hitler-types who have arisen and many people have voluntarily subordinated their will to those types. Advent is a good time to self-examine one’s own inclinations. Are they towards God, or are they to an addiction, or to something or someone not of God? Well history can give us a good picture of what it means to subordinate one’s will to God’s. Such a marriage has created the greatest art and architecture the world has known, great sacrifice, great dedication to others, yes, even the greatest happiness and contentment. God calls us to love one another, whoever the other may be (contrast that with Hitler’s will). God calls us to ally ourselves with something good beyond ourselves, to welcome whatever comes from the hand of God. And Advent anticipates such an arrival. It is an invitation to clear the decks of all that is impure, and deck the halls with hope and laughter. What will be, will be!
Pilgrims at Our Lady’s Grotto, Lourdes, Summer 2013.