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[527] Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Zep 3:14-18 / Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6 / Lk 1:39-56

Mary is viewed by believers as a figure for the Church, particularly as the New Jerusalem. What God did for her we hope to see realized in us: filled with grace and holiness, handmaid of the Lord, and raised or restored body-and-soul to life in heaven. Israel of old wandered through the desert and was given stewardship of the Ark of the Covenant. Mary, as also a daughter Zion would travel the desert to visit her cousin Elizabeth. There she would fulfill the command found in Zephaniah, “Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exalt with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” Indeed, her canticle wonderfully parallels the prophetic words of restitution and mercy from God. Indeed, the prophetic words are realized in a way that the prophet could never have imagined, “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.” The encounter between these women was not between two persons but four. Hidden but present was John the Baptizer in the womb and, more importantly, the unborn Christ. The responsorial uses Isaiah’s words which point even more directly to the feast we celebrate today: “Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel. God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the LORD.”

Speaking for myself, a personal connection is made with the words, “With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation.” I visited the site of the Visitation on two occasions, and there is a well at the bottom of the hill from where the encounter took place. There is now a Catholic church that marks the site. There is a quaint legend about the hell. Supposedly, during the time when the elder Herod had his soldiers out search to kill the Christ Child, Elizabeth and Zechariah placed the baby John in a bucket and lowered him into the well so as to hide him. Otherwise, his death would have been added to the many Holy Innocents who died. When we next encounter John, note that he would again be in the water, albeit baptizing for repentance sake in the Jordan.

The Visitation scene is remarkable on many levels. When Mary entered the house we are told that John leaped in the womb. Even here he is the prophet of the Lord, announcing the presence of the Christ. I recall an artist’s modern “symbolic” depiction which showed a cut-away of Christ shining with brilliant Light in the womb and with John smiling and jumping. Today, especially, there is a powerful pro-life message to this event. Jesus was Lord even in the womb and John was his prophet. Such celebrations make the proponents of abortion very uncomfortable. Every child, inside or outside the womb, is a living person distinct from his or her parents. Every person is precious and irreplaceable. Every child is a reflection of the Christ Child. The mystery of the Incarnation brings home the fact that there is no such thing as a pro-abortion Christianity. This makes abortion and all those who permit or enable it to happen into accomplices to murder, indeed, more than this, a form of attempted deicide. Having already received the greeting associated with the Hail Mary prayer from the angel, we now hear the Spirit-moved addition from Elizabeth, a daughter of Israel: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The Church will add the rest. Mary responds with her Magnificat that is used every day in the Liturgy of the Hours: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.” Mary here becomes a prophetess. Note that she says that God is her Savior, not that he “will be,” an indication toward the mystery of her holiness as the Immaculate Conception. She also foretells her continuing role and the devotion of the Church toward her. God has remembered his promise and has sent the Savior or Messiah. The damage caused by sin will be healed. Nothing will ever be the same again.

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