The Feast of the Visitation 2017

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.

Footnote
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!

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The Feast of the Visitation 2014

This tender image from the eleventh century is eloquent of the love between Mary and Elizabeth and the care of each for the other. That long trek through the Judaean hills must have cost Mary something in both time and effort. How Elizabeth responded to that generosity! It is worth asking how we spend our time, our efforts. Do we waste them on anger or criticism of others, for example, or do we lavish them on those we love? ‘Those we love’ can be a difficult category. Sometimes, perhaps, we define our terms too narrowly, wanting to feel love where we cannot. It is surely enough that any human being has a call on our love simply by virtue of being human; and if we cannot find it in ourselves to love them, we can allow God to love them through us.

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The Feast of the Visitation

The Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, Chartres Cathedral
The Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, Chartres Cathedral

When Paul VI moved the feast of the Visitation to 31 May, he ensured that May, ‘Mary’s month’, would finally have a feast of Our Lady, and what a beautiful feast it is!

There is something very moving about Mary’s making the difficult journey to visit her kinswoman when she was herself pregnant. Equally moving is Elizabeth’s amazed and humble greeting, ‘Why should the mother of my Lord come to me?’ We tend to think of the Visitation as the feast of the Magnificat, that glorious canticle of praise that fell from Mary’s lips, but perhaps for us it is Elizabeth’s question that matters. Why should the saints, chief of whom is Mary, bother themselves with us?

The Visitation is yet another reminder of the strength of the communion of saints, of the bonds of prayer and mutual concern that bind us together. The communion of saints is a reality here and now as well as hereafter. When times are hard, there is a tendency to put ourselves first, arguing that we cannot afford to be generous to others. Some British charities are experiencing the truth of this as donations decline and the work they do for for the poor or disadvantaged has to end. Today we have the example of Mary and Elizabeth to encourage us: we can and must help others and in so doing we may help more than we know. We must be saints for others.

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