I love the feast that we celebrate today: the Visitation of Mary to her kinswoman, Elizabeth. This was no “stopping ’round for tea” visit. Mary traveled “to the hill country” and stayed for three months. Elizabeth was a woman past child-bearing age – whatever that meant in those long-ago days. In her 30s, perhaps, and probably concerned since she had heretofore been unable to conceive. Mary was just a teenager, and likely frightened by the process of carrying a child. For both of them this “favor” wrought by God was what many would have called “hard grace.” On a human level, how lucky they were to have each other! We speculate that Elizabeth was further along in her pregnancy so it must have been a relief to have Mary around to help her. The Scriptures intimate that Mary had rushed off to Elizabeth soon after receiving the message from God that she was pregnant. Her comfort would likely have been an older woman, who obviously loved her, to lean on and share with as she interiorized what was happening to her body and her life. Such a great story!
The gospel passage from Luke (1:39-56) doesn’t stop with this loving, relational scene, however. Perhaps it was on her trek from Nazareth to Elizabeth’s home that Mary’s process of acceptance that began with her “yes” at the Annunciation was fulfilled. Or perhaps it was Elizabeth’s recognition of the child Mary was carrying that caused her own baby to “leap” in her womb. Whatever the transformation in Mary, her testimony to the power of God that she sang out on that day of her arrival in response to Elizabeth’s greeting was that of a strong woman who knew her role in the great drama of religious history that was unfolding within her. From this day, she proclaimed, all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name!
Those words are followed with a vision of God’s power to overturn the order of powerful and poor in a restoration of justice. Certainly, Mary did not know the specifics of how that would happen – nor did anyone, but she knew she had been chosen for a role in it. And the courage to speak, I believe, came not only from God’s grace but from the relationship of the older, more worldly-wise woman standing beside her.
Let us today (men and women alike) rejoice in those women in our lives who give us solace and courage when we need it and the companionship that keeps us on track in our living. Let us remember also, those who have gone before us who still stand as examples of the willingness to accept God’s grace in our lives that we might fulfill our destiny in praise and beauty.