After the horrible hiatus of the covid pandemic and despite its continuing dangers, more and more people have been traveling here, there, and everywhere. And, among those many trips, some certainly are visits with family and friends.
Now, as we all well know, family visits are not always what we would like them to be – especially, perhaps, in this fraught period of political polarization and division, when it may be a challenge not to cause or exacerbate conflict! Sometimes, we visit only grudgingly – more a matter of duty than desire. How fitting, then, to hear today about a visit by one person whose motives, we know, were never mixed!
The traditional site of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home is the little town of Ein Karem, 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 thought or felt as she undertook that difficult journey. The story says she set out in haste. No procrastination, no putting off what might seem merely 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 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.
Instead of shouting her good news to the world (which until then had reproached her for being childless), Elizabeth was waiting 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 God who had totally taken over her life.
Back in 5th century North Africa, one of the great Doctors of the Church, St. Augustine, said: “If God’s Word had not become flesh and had not dwelt among us, we would have had to believe that there was no connection between God and humanity, and we would have been in despair.”
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 - and we won’t have reason to despair ever again - 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 Christ can truly be our hope and become so for all the world.
Homily for the feast of the Visitation, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY, May 31, 2023.
Photo: Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Israel.