Fr. Gerard D’Souza, OCSO
Feast of the Visitation of Our Lady
I have been struck by the human dimensions of the Visitation. St Luke paints with a huge canvas in Chapter 1 of the gospel. It is a long chapter with 80 verses. And within those 80 chapters there is a huge shift. The first part takes place in the Temple with the angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah. Zechariah is a priest. His wife Elizabeth comes from a priestly family. The angel appeared to Zechariah precisely as he was performing his priestly duties. All this we expect. The Temple after all is the place of God’s dwelling on earth for the Jews. It is also in Jerusalem. The center of the world for the Jews.
Then there is a sudden shift. The angel Gabriel appears in half pagan Galilee and in a home and not a temple. It is a nondescript village not Jerusalem. And to a maiden who is not of a priestly family. The Temple is left behind, the priesthood is left behind. A new center is in play. And we see this in the Visitation. The child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting. But the question is how did Elizabeth recognize that the Messiah had come?
Jewish tradition held that at the Red Sea, the babies in their mothers’ wombs leapt for joy at the salvation of their people. Now Elizabeth was steeped in this tradition and like any pious Jew lived with longing for the Messiah. She recognized the advent of the Messiah when her baby leapt in her womb when Mary arrived at her home. She broke spontaneously into prophecy and in turn Mary breaks into prophecy with her Magnificat. Remember this is all happening in a home and not in the Temple. Happening between two women and not with the professionals. It is not marked with somber solemnity and scrupulous care and even fear in the Temple. Here it is spontaneous, joyful, suffused with warmth and love and comfort in each other’s presence. All the warmth that home can provide.
The shift is Mary. She is the new Temple of the Lord, the God bearer. Christ comes through her and this has consequences for us. I am sure in your lives too, your mother is the one who first taught you the faith. She is the one who takes you or drags you as the case may be to Church. Our being immersed in the faith is through the pedagogy and care of a mother. Our faith is imbued and soaked with this maternal aspect. We take it for granted because it is so close to our skin. A mother’s care is so close to the skin that we take it for granted. In the same way, as we see today, when Mary comes on the scene, the communication of the mystery of God is suddenly down to human and maternal scale. We might not advert to it, any more than we adverted to our mother’s milk but Mary is the atmosphere, the ever present ambience, the world-mothering care ( as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it) which nourishes us and in which we grow and in which we are introduced to the mystery of God and Christ.