One never tires of this lovely feast of the Visitation! I seem to have written about it endlessly, as the blog archive will attest. Is there anything new to say? No, but perhaps we can ask a new question — new to me, at any rate. What dreams did Mary and Elizabeth hold for their unborn children? Were they the happy dreams of ordinary mothers in provincial Palestine, of a healthy, God-fearing son who would be faithful to the Covenant, to marriage and to the bringing up of children of their own one day? Or were they tinged with the immensity of God, with a questioning, wondering hope and fear, a not knowing? Mary, greeted by an angel and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, was to give birth to the Messiah, but even as she gave her consent did she ask herself who was this child she was to carry and what would he turn out to be? As she made the long journey to Elizabeth, did more questions arise in her heart to which she found no answers? And what of Elizabeth, conceiving in her old age, her husband struck dumb but with a strange tale to tell of an angel prohesying a singular destiny for their son, did she wonder what was to become of her child? Did both Mary and Elizabeth know, as mothers often seem to know, that neither would live an ordinary life, that their happy dreams would never be realised in the way they hoped?
When Mary and Elizabeth met, all those questions resolved themselves. Elizabeth greeted Mary as the mother of her Lord, and Mary responded with the Magnificat, that beautiful expression of trust in God. Elizabeth knew; Mary knew; and everything was changed in an instant. Even apparently bad things — suffering, loss, death — were transformed and became part of God’s saving action. Is that the secret of the Magnificat, glorifying God not just for his mirabilia but also for what he has not done, proclaiming his goodness and holiness no matter how much suffering has to be endured, no matter how many hopes are dashed? Every night at Vespers the Church sings the Magnificat into the gathering darkness, with the same faith and trust as Mary. We, too, say our unconditional yes to God’s purposes. We too glorify him, come what may. We too trust in his goodness for ever and ever. And because we trust, we are empowered to act. This beautiful feast is a reminder of our duty to serve, to be welcoming and hospitable to all in need, but we do so not with our own strength but with the power of him who exalts the lowly.
Five years ago, on this feastday, we took possesion of this house* with many hopes and dreams for the future. Inevitably, my illness has made some of them difficult to achieve. For example, we have not been able to be as hospitable as we would have liked. On the other hand, not being able to do some things in the traditional way has made us try to do things in a new way. Today we give thanks for all that has been, especially for all who have helped us and who help us still. May God bless each and every one of you.
* Honesty compells me to admit that the Bank owns quite a large part of it!