Catholic trivia time: who are the only three people whose birthdays we celebrate in the Catholic liturgical calendar? Yes, everyone better say Jesus (Christmas). You probably could guess the Birth of Mary (September 8). And maybe, just maybe, if you happen to have been told this before or you happen to pay close attention to feast days, then you might guess the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24). Now, none of those feast days are today, so why am I talking about them? It is because today is the Visitation and the Visitation is the only one time we find all three of these very important people (VIPs) in the same place. At the Visitation, John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus are all present.
Some out there may argue that Mary was present when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, or that maybe John the Baptist happened to crash the Wedding at Cana, or that it’s assumed Mary and John were both listening to Jesus as he taught and proclaimed the Gospel. Sure, those arguments can be made, but the Visitation is the only time we can be 100% sure of it. We are told explicitly in scripture that John, Mary, and Jesus were all there.
Face it. The Visitation must be important. You should probably celebrate it today. More than that, you should try to enter into the beauty of its mystery. I encourage you to take some time to pray with the story of the Visitation. Found in Luke 1:39-56, it is a beautiful story of love, joy, and the blessings of God.
As I prayed, I imagined Elizabeth pacing her home for days, waking up in the middle of the night, expectantly awaiting the arrival of her beloved cousin. Had she heard the news from other travelers? When was the last time she had seen Mary? Had Elizabeth heard that Mary was pregnant?
I imagined the moment that the “voice of Mary’s greeting” reached Elizabeth’s ears. An angelic sweetness, perfect in its melody, blurring the lines of speech and song. Nothing else could follow but a rapid beating of heart, tears flowing down Elizabeth’s cheeks….And of course, the leaping of little John inside her.
Maybe Elizabeth and Mary’s eyes met, and in the gaze and the tears and the leaping, Elizabeth knew that Mary’s baby was more than miraculous. He was the One Who Is To Come, the Messiah, the Christ. Then the greatest of all songs pours forth from Mary’s heart in the form of the Magnificat.
What a mystery!
It’s feasts like these that seem to capture my heart and attention more than others. I mean, celebrating births and conceptions and babies leaping, what’s not to love?
But then I start to fear.
I love to meditate on these images of hardly fathomable joy in the Gospels. I love to savor the moments that lift my heart beyond what I could have imagined. But then I find myself clinging to the emotions and trying to never let go. I become fearful of what this all means, of what may be on the horizon because joy like this can’t possibly go on.
I find it hard to imagine that in the joy of Elizabeth and Mary’s reunion there wasn’t something deep down, some deep knowledge, that both of their children would die at the hands of evil men. That both of their children would be hated and hunted one day. Yet even if they had that knowledge, their joy wasn’t stolen. They were able to live fully and freely in the present moment, holding each other in their arms. Not clinging to the moment, fearful of what may come.
What gave them this ability to savor the moment with purity and to accept whatever the future may hold without fear? I can’t help but propose that it was because both were clinging to the tiny baby, God himself, inside Mary. Mary was clinging to God both in her heart and in her body, and Elizabeth was clinging to Him through her embrace of Mary.
The message I find in this feast seems hidden in the embrace of Elizabeth and Mary. The message is this: that to live in the present without clinging, we must be clinging to God.
I pray you enter into the joyful mystery of the Visitation today with Elizabeth, John and Mary. May you find Him who is our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, cling to Him, and never let Him go!