PODCAST | Visitation

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In this reflection on The Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, we encounter the realization that Mary offers us much in the way of teaching us about self-giving. Especially in the way she puts others first, always availing herself to acts of serving others for the love of God. There is an experience of true joy in all she does.

And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:35-37

Try to imagine the interior world of this young woman. Mary was overwhelmed with joy that the Messiah had finally come. The Chosen People had been waiting for this moment for centuries.

She could hardly contain herself…who could she share this great news with? Who else but the one whom Gabriel had included in his message when he announced Elizabeth’s miraculous conception. Mary and Elizabeth were thus intimately connected in this unique divine enterprise.

No words can describe the intensity of Mary’s emotions as she set out for the hill country of Judea, the village of Ein Karem, 90 miles to the south of Nazareth. For starters, one does not quickly forget conversing with an Archangel. Who knows how many times Mary repeated those words of Gabriel: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”Luke 1:31-33

Mary’s cousin Elizabeth occupied her thoughts as well. That elderly woman, now in her sixth month, really needed her at her side. Mary understood that something special had occurred, given Elizabeth’s pregnancy after a lifetime of barrenness. But it was only upon her arrival that Mary learned of the special mission that Elizabeth’s child was to carry out.

Imagine Mary’s eyes growing bigger and bigger as Elizabeth described Gabriel’s message to her husband Zechariah: “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, …and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, …to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Luke 1:13-17

Those two expectant mothers realized within minutes that they were carrying, nestled beneath their hearts, the future, the destiny of all of humanity. Each of them had been especially prepared by the Holy Spirit for this divine mission.

Let us try to imagine what must have transpired in that home during those 12 weeks of waiting. That young girl from Nazareth, Mary, making a constant fuss in order to ease the discomfort of the much older Elizabeth. Hours of conversation and—more importantly—of prayer and meditation. We simply cannot imagine the depth and fervor of the interior world of those two women as they tried to grasp all that the Lord was setting in motion through their respective infants.

Meanwhile, off in a corner of the house sat Zechariah, incapable of speaking because he had doubted the Archangel Gabriel. All he could do was watch and listen in awe as those two women shared their thoughts and dreams.

Mary has a great deal to teach us as we contemplate her extraordinary spirit of service. In the first place, her very first thought was for her cousin’s needs rather than her own new situation. We can imagine Mary heading south with haste, as St. Luke tells us. None of us has ever bolted out the door, ready to spend nearly a week walking or riding a donkey for 90 miles (145km).

You may recall that insight that St John Paul II loved to remind us of that we become most fully human when we make of ourselves a sincere gift. It is a very powerful thought that comes originally from Blasé Paschal, “We become most fully human when we make of ourselves a sincere gift.” It is all too easy to go in the opposite direction, becoming self-centered, self absorbed.

Right there is our very first petition to our Lady, asking Mary to teach us what it means to become a sincere gift. Mary’s selfless spirit of service produced contagious joy. Imagine her finally arriving in the village of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Heads no doubt turned when people saw the glow in that young woman’s face. The entire house of Elizabeth and Zechariah was filled with a radiant light, the clear sign of the presence of the Messiah.

St Luke tells us:  Mary entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  Luke 1:42-46

Mary had spent those 4 or 5 days of the journey immersed in nonstop contemplation of the mystery who now inhabited her womb. Just imagine how many times must she have repeated “Jesus, my son, my Lord, my Messiah”. The sentiments that burst forth in the Magnificat upon Mary’s arrival had no doubt been percolating in her interior during that journey.

As we contemplate our call to serve to imitate Mary’s spirit of service, it is worthwhile considering a special chapter which is dealing with the sick. Those who are ill are a treasure, and we should care for them accordingly, with lots of affection. It is understandable that the sick can be impatient and demanding. Let us do whatever it takes to be understanding and to love them as they are.

A helpful question to ask ourselves: Do we ‘bring’ Christ with us, and with him joy, wherever we go? Does our presence habitually cause people to be cheered up?”

In this context an unusual figure comes to mind, that of Fats Domino. A recent article about him attributed to him what was referred to as a “thousand watts smile”.  That is very graphic, it is very helpful.  Especially if you can picture in your minds eye that great piano player Fats Domino.

Mary, teach us how to transmit warmth, interest and self-giving whenever we enter a room. This is what St. Josemaria suggests when he writes to us in Furrow:

“What must the cheerful way that Jesus looked upon people have been like? It must have been the same look that shone in the eyes of his Mother who could not contain her joy — Magnificat anima mea Dominum! — and her soul glorified the Lord while she carried Him within her and by her side.

Oh, Mother!: May we, like you, rejoice to be with Him and to hold Him.”     Furrow no. 95

Finally, kindness. Pope Francis in his recent document, The Joy of Love(Amoris La etitia), he says, “To be open to a genuine encounter with others, “a kind look” is essential. This is incompatible with a negative attitude that readily points out other people’s shortcomings while overlooking one’s own.” Well this sounds very nice, very gentle but is a tall order if we stop and think about it. We have to fight against that tendency to judge others to look down on others, to be rather critical without even knowing anything about those who might be walking into a room. The Pope goes on to say; “A kind look helps us to see beyond our own limitations, to be patient and to cooperate with others, despite our differences. Those who love are capable of speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation, and encouragement. This of course, is exactly what was taking place there in the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Mary was there, at the side of Elizabeth, precisely offering those words of comfort and strength, consolation and encouragement. Later, Jesus was himself to say: “Take heart, my son!” (Mt 9:2); “Great is your faith!” (Mt 15:28); “Arise!” (Mk 5:41); “Go in peace” (Lk 7:50); “Be not afraid” (Mt 14:27). AL 100  These words that Jesus used to speak to a number of people to strengthen them, encourage them, comfort and console them.

At another moment in Amoris Laetitia(The Joy of Love), the Holy Father helps us to think much more, you could say, an intimate level of thinking about the family,

“In the family, we learn closeness, care and respect for others. We break out of our fatal self-absorption and come to realize that we are living with and alongside others who are worthy of our concern, our kindness and our affection. Every day the family has to come up with new ways of appreciating and acknowledging its members.”  AL 276

Mary does indeed have much to teach us about self-giving. On this great Feast Day of the Visitation as we contemplate Mary totally absorbed in others, starting with her son, and forgetting about herself, we ask her to give us a crash course in making of ourselves a sincere gift.

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Rev. Msgr. Frederick Dolan

Msgr. Frederick Dolan, a native of Bethesda, Maryland, was ordained a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei in 1983. He has worked in Rome, New York City, South Bend (Indiana) and New Haven (CT). Since 1998 he has resided in Montreal and has been serving as Vicar of Opus Dei for Canada.

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