Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Visitation

(4th Sunday of Advent, C)

We are very close, friends, to the great mystery of our salvation, to the great mystery of the Eternal Word made flesh, to the birth of the Lord. We’re not quite yet there — but nevertheless, today we rejoice in expectation with two great mothers, with Mary and Elizabeth, the mothers of John the Baptist, greatest of Israel’s prophets, and Jesus of Nazareth, who is called the Christ, the Son of God.

Since today’s Gospel is the story of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, I was recalling when I was first learning to pray the Rosary. I had one of those little pamphlets with the prayers written out and a diagram of what to say on each of the beads. This was before the new “luminous mysteries,” so there were only the original fifteen mysteries arranged in a little chart. For each mystery there was a little picture, a verse from Scripture, and something called the “fruit” of the mystery. I was never sure what was meant by the “fruit” of the mystery, but I guessed, I think correctly, that it was the virtue or disposition in yourself that would be strengthened by the meditation on each mystery.

Now when it came to the second joyful mystery, the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, the Gospel story we hear today, the fruit of the mystery was listed as “charity.” So I would like to reflect a little with you today about how entering into this mystery of the Visitation, together with Mary and Elizabeth, can help us to grow in the love of God, of the charity we have toward one another.

First of all, we adore and celebrate these beautiful mysteries of the Christmas season, and as well we should. But we always need to go further, and enter into the mysteries of faith with our own hearts, and with our own hands and feet too. In other words, God invites all of us to be Marys and Elizabeths for each other.

Mary, of course, is “blessed among women” as Elizabeth cries out. She is the mother of God and the mother of the church. Even more, she has been the mother of every one of the Lord’s disciples, including us, ever since Jesus gave her to us as our mother from the Cross. To take two of her titles from the Litany of Loreto, she is the “gate of heaven” and the “spiritual vessel” through which God becomes Incarnate in this world. She is, in her great Greek title, the Theotokos, she who bears God into the world. And friends, it is us who are called to continue her vocation of bearing Christ into the world – us, the Church!

St. Francis called Mary the Virgo ecclesia facta, the Virgin made church, and what an insight! Just as Mary bore the Incarnate Word, the Son of God into the world, so we, the Church, are called to continue to make Christ real in the darkness of this world. Mary is the Church and the Church is Mary – we continue her great “yes” to God by bringing Jesus Christ to birth in our faith and in the love we put into practice for the sake of each other and for the world.

So let’s go ahead and imitate Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth. The great gift of faith that we carry in our hearts, the love of God that inspires our actions, let’s take it to each other. We see a lot of people this time of year, and like Mary, we often see family and relations we might not visit with often. Let’s bear the love of Christ to them, just as Mary did for her cousin Elizabeth. Though you can, you don’t have to preach it out loud – you preach just as much by your attitudes of gentleness, forgiveness, and care. And if those you are with have eyes to see your faith and ears to hear you words as the love of God, they will bless God on your behalf just as Elizabeth did and say, “how does this happen to me, that mother of my Lord should come to me?”

And so that brings us to Elizabeth, to the other half of this mystery of the Visitation, to the other part of our learning of God’s charity. Just as we are called to continue Mary’s work in the world, we must also learn to do as Elizabeth did. We must bear the love of Christ to one another, for sure. But we also learn how to graciously receive the love that others bring us, to accept the humility and vulnerability of letting other people love us with the love of Christ.

Remember how Elizabeth felt the infant John the Baptist leap in her womb when she heard Mary’s greeting. In his commentary on Luke St. Ambrose writes: “Elizabeth is the first to hear Mary’s voice, but John is the first to be aware of grace. She hears with the ears of the body, but he leaps for joy at the meaning of the mystery.”

So it needs to be with us. When anyone bears love to us, when anyone greets us with kindness or forgiveness or gentleness, we must go beyond just seeing and hearing them with our bodily eyes and ears. Through our faith we must perceive, like John the Baptist, the love of God, the charity of Christ that is being borne to us by someone else.

It could be the long-suffering love and care of our family members. It could be the forgiveness of someone we’ve hurt long ago, or over and over. It might just be the smile or kind word of a stranger on the street, or the delight and wonder in the eyes of a child. In all of these we must, with our eyes and ears of faith, see the love of Christ that is being brought into the world. And then we can say with Elizabeth, “how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Let’s let Jesus open our eyes of faith, that we may notice some of the many chances we have in a day to continue Mary’s great “yes,” and bear the love of Christ into the world. And let us imitate Elizabeth by glorifying God for the many ways God uses the people around us to show us his love and care.

Merry Christmas, everyone. The Son of God, the Eternal Word of the Father, desires nothing more than to be born anew into this world. He’s literally dying to be born. The Eternal Love that is Christ wants nothing more than to be born into the dank caves of our hearts and the messy stables of our lives. Like our mother Mary, let us accept him with faith, and, like our sister Elizabeth let us rejoice with those who share his love with us.

1 comment:

4narnia said...

beautiful and very inspirational homily, Fr. C! thank you so much! i especially like your example of when you were learning to pray the Rosary and how you say that the "fruit of the mysteries of the Rosary are the virtues or dispositions in ourselves that would be strengthened by the meditation on each mystery." this is SO TRUE! although i'm not really a "Rosary" person, i do like just meditating on the mysteries because they are of the lives of Jesus and Mary. the more we pray and meditate, the stronger and more virtuous we can become. the theme that i seem to get from the readings of this fourth Sunday of Advent are that of being people of PEACE and people who are welcoming. PEACE! ~tara t~