Today the Church celebrates the sublime event of the visitation of the Mother of God to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.
The occasion of this meeting is presented in dramatic terms in the Gospel of Luke, drama which culminates in what is called the “Magnificat” of Christ’s Mother- a song of praise to the God of Israel.
Throughout the centuries the Visitation has inspired theologians, poets, painters and sculptors. The Father of the Church presented the Visitation as a meeting of complementary opposites- Christ and his forerunner, John the Baptist; the Church (represented by Christ’s Mother) meeting Israel of the Old Testament (represented by Elizabeth); the New Covenant presenting itself to the Old Covenant.
Many artists see the drama as more immediate- the meeting of two women who have found themselves in the most inexplicable of circumstances- one, a virgin, has conceived a Son; the other, a woman well beyond the years of childbearing, is pregnant. The lesson? God is not confined by our expectations, or even our own sense of what is right or fitting, but will inevitably surprise us with possibilities that we assumed to be impossible.
Perhaps we might also consider the meaning of Visitation as expressed in the “Magnificat”- remember, the Mother of God proclaims the greatness of the Lord who “shows his strength” by “casting down the mighty” and “lifting up the lowly”.
In other words, God displays his own power in this moment of meeting between Christ’s Mother and her kinswoman that overturns the power of this world. How so?
Consider this: We mark and remember the great events of human history by marking and remembering the deeds of kings and queens, warlords and conquerors. We are impressed by fame and fortune and give the bearers of these conceits pride of place in our culture. We seek association with men and women of power, thinking that the fulfillment of our personhood happens when our power to get things done shows itself and makes our greatness felt.
But the Bible displays a different kind of power, a power that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated- a power is often hidden from history.
This power is displayed to us in the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, two nobodies from a backward corner of the world. Not only Israelites in a world dominated by Rome and women in a world dominated by men, but pregnant women- in other words, the world would not see in these two any power, but only weakness and vulnerability.
However, there is a surprise: both of them are bearing into the world forces of divine action and revelation that will overturn nations and bring kings to their knees. The children of these women will shame the selfish and bring about a new way of life that will change the world.
And in the moment of the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, who knew? The event went unnoticed as it happened. In the moment it happened it was invisible to the radar of history.
The lesson for us? Perhaps in the immediacy of our own lives and circumstances, burdened by our status quos, seemingly overshadowed by the powers of the world, unnoticed by the great and the mighty- we might see how God is working to accomplish his purposes- purposes beyond what we think is possible- purposes that, like the Visitation, are full of surprises…
Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
In addition, be sure to take a look today at Brandon Vogt's excellent post, "The Visitation: Curing Our Social Justice Tribes," on his blog, The Thin Veil.