After the horrible hiatus of the covid pandemic and despite its continuing and growing dangers, people are traveling and visiting again. Today the Church remembers the most famous visit, so famous that we just call it that – the Visitation.
The traditional site of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home and so the presumed site of the Visitation is the little town of Ain Karim, some 5 miles west of Jerusalem – a journey at that time of several days from Galilee through Samaria to Judea. Obviously, we cannot know now exactly what Mary may have felt as she undertook that difficult journey, in response to God’s plan that had been revealed to her by an angel. The story says she set out in haste. No procrastination, no putting off what, to us, might seem more like a dutiful but burdensome social obligation. Perhaps, she sought to draw on the wisdom and strength of her older relative. Surely, she must have wanted to make contact (in a world without Facebook and Twitter) with the only other person who had thus far been let in on God’s great plan, that was even then quite literally taking shape in the bodies of these two remarkable women.
After so long, Elizabeth in her old age had also conceived a son - and had responded to this incredible favor by going into seclusion. Also unexpectedly pregnant, Mary responded to this problematic and potentially dangerous development - by rushing off to visit Elizabeth.
Instead of shouting her good news to the world (which until then had reproached her for being childless), Elizabeth waited silently for the miracle’s full meaning to make itself known. Instead of cautiously keeping quiet, Mary rushed to tell all to Elizabeth, thus showing her own complete confidence in the God who had totally taken over her life.
What a wonderful story!
The God for whom Elizabeth silently waited for so long, the God whom Mary carried in her womb so faithfully, has come at last to live with us. In the process, he connects us not only with himself but with one another. As he brought Mary and Elizabeth together, filled with the Holy Spirit, so he leads us to one another and unites us, thought the same Holy Spirit, in a new community, formed by faith, directed by hope, and alive with love. And we, as a result, must never let things be the same again! And they won’t be, if, like Elizabeth, when we hear him coming, we offer him the hospitality of our hearts, and if, like Mary, having conceived him in our hearts, we are willing to carry him into the world with confidence – so that, through us, Christ can truly be our hope and become so for all the world.
Homily for the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY, NY, May 31, 2022.
Image: Visitation Fresco by Florentine artist Giotto de Bondone (1267-1337), Lower Basilica of Saint Francis, Assisi.