The Visitation,Ghirlandaio 1491, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
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 1:42.
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
Being an unmarried man, I have no idea what it must be like to have a pregnant woman in the house, and the concurrent anxieties and frustrations that must entail. Looking up “how difficult are the last weeks of pregnancy?” to find out, this came up:
The funny and frustrating thing about the last few weeks of pregnancy is that you never truly know you’re at the end until after you give birth. Why does this (seemingly obvious) thing matter? Because the difference between one, two, or three weeks when you’re oh-so-pregnant can be the difference between feeling mildly tortured and feeling like you’re stranded on a deserted island infested with mosquitos in 100 degree weather with no rescue in sight. (Lamaze International).
So I guess I found out! Pretty tough. It explains quite well in today’s gospel Mary’s immediate reaction to the knowledge of Elizabeth’s pregnant state, she who had been considered barren (Luke 1:36). Mary had just consented to the request from God that she become the mother of God’s son, so she was not yet in the last stages of pregnancy. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was in her sixth month, and in addition was almost certainly an older woman, in which case, she needed all the assistance she could get. It seems that Mary, without a moment’s hesitation, set out to help her. That meant walking of course, and Judah is a four or five day walk way south of Nazareth which is in Galilee in the north of the Holy Land….. The angel Gabriel had told Mary of Elizabeth’s situation, and identified her as Mary’s “relative”. Hence Jesus and the soon-to-be born John (the Baptist) were cousins of sorts. So this was a family crisis to which Mary responded. And on Mary’s arrival, Elizabeth knew at once what had happened: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” She knew that because, as the gospel says, she was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and could prophesy. That plus the unborn John leaping in her womb at the presence of God’s unborn son! What a story!
The Visitation, Jen Norton Picturing Stories of Home.
As ever in Holy Scripture, there is overwhelming symbolism in this apparently humble event. Elizabeth is carrying John, he who would proclaim the arrival of the Messiah some 30 years later. Jesus is the Messiah, who will be baptized by John at that time. The older man, called the last prophet by Christians, represents the closure of the Old Testament, Jesus, the beginning of the New. So the older woman embracing the younger represent the continuity of God’s revelation from prophecy to fulfillment. The immediate reaction that Mary had on hearing that her kinswoman was pregnant was to rush to her side. That demonstrated generosity, care and sacrifice. It also gives us insight into the household in which Jesus grew up (and about which we know so little from Scripture). As I get older, I find I am more and more like my mother, a strange thing to say, and I wonder if others have experienced that. But Jesus, in being generous throughout his ministry and ultimately the sacrificed lamb for our redemption, seems to reflect the household in which he grew up. He reflects in his ministry the qualities shown by Mary in the Visitation story. And that should give us deep insight into the lives of those people who have grown up in terrible conditions yet overcome them to reveal qualities which are God-like: their tenacity, conviction, courage and pure goodness. Their example seems to prove Jesus’ promise to be with us to the end of time, everywhere and anywhere. There are many people who did not get the support they should have had when young who have overcome that deprivation and emerging as true Christians, a story of triumph. And for the rest of us? It is our duty to assist such people, our friends and neighbors, who might be on the way to defeating incredibly bad odds as they respond to God’s call to perfection. So all of these thoughts are good food for Advent reflection and response. Where does each one of us fit into such a picture? What is the appropriate response on deciding where we fit? How can we demonstrate to God that we are Advent apostles seeking the good of those around us as we take care to reflect God’s goodness within us? As ever, we are not alone, as all of the above suggests. We must simply recognize the Lord standing beside us, helping us, longing for us to succeed. What a way to welcome the new-born child into our midst.
Beautiful Nativity, Foter.
Reflections on Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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