Thursday, August 15, 2013
The visit of Mary to Elizabeth
a) Opening Prayer:
Holy Spirit, Spirit of Wisdom, of Science, of Intelligence, of Counsel, fill us, we pray, with the knowledge of the Word of God, fill us with every kind of spiritual wisdom and intelligence, so as to be able to understand it at depth. May we, under your guidance be able to understand the Gospel of this Marian solemnity. Holy Spirit, we need you, you, the only one who continually moulds in us the figure and the form of Jesus. And we turn to you, Mary, Mother of Jesus and of the Church, you who have lived the inebriating and totalising Presence of the Holy Spirit, you who have experienced the power of his force in you, who has seen it operating in your Son Jesus from the time when he was in the maternal womb, open our heart and our mind, so that they may be docile to listen to the Word of God.
b) Reading of the Gospel:
Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, 'Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.'
And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant. Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name,
and his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him.
He has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly.
He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love
-according to the promise he made to our ancestors -- of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.
Mary stayed with her some three months and then went home.
c) Moments of prayerful silence:
Silence is a quality of the one who knows how to listen to God. Try to create in yourself an atmosphere of peace and of silent adoration. If you are capable to be in silence before God, you will be able to listen to his breath which is Life.
a) Key to the Reading:
Blessed are you among women
In the first part of today’s Gospel, the words of Elizabeth resound: “Blessed are you among women”, preceded by a spatial movement. Mary leaves Nazareth, situated in the North of Palestine, to go to the South, approximately fifty kilometres, to a place which tradition has identified as the present day Ain Karem, not too far from Jerusalem. The physical movement shows the interior sensibility of Mary, who is not closed on herself, to contemplate, in a private and intimate way, the mystery of the Divine Maternity which is being accomplished in her, but she is projected to the path of charity. She moves in order to go and help her elderly cousin. Mary’s going to Elizabeth has the added connotation ‘in haste’ which Saint Ambrose interprets as follows: “Mary set out in haste to the hill country, not because she did not believe the prophecy or because she was uncertain of the announcement or doubted of the proof, but because she was pleased with the promise and desirous to devotedly fulfil a service, with the impulse that she received from her intimate joy… The grace of the Holy Spirit does not entail slowness”. The reader, though, knows that the true reason of the trip is not indicated, but can get it through information deduced from the context. The angel had communicated to Mary the pregnancy of Elizabeth, already in the sixth month (cfr. v. 37). Besides the fact that she remained there three months (cfr. v. 56), just the time so that the child could be born, allows us to understand that Mary intended to help her cousin. Mary runs, and goes where there is an urgent need, the need for help, showing, in this way, a clear sensibility and concrete availability.
Together with Mary, Jesus, in his mother’s womb, moves with her. From here it is easy to deduce the Christological value of the episode of the visit of Mary to her cousin: above all, the attention is for Jesus. At first sight, it could seem to be a scene concentrated on the two women, in reality, what is important for the Evangelist is the prodigious fact present in their conceiving. Mary moving tends, in last instance, to have the encounter between the two women.
As soon as Mary enters into the house and greets Elizabeth, the small John leaped in her womb. According to some this leaping is not comparable to the changing place of the foetus, which is experienced by every pregnant woman. Luke uses a particular Greek verb which precisely means “jumping”. Wishing to interpret the verb a bit literally, it could be indicated with “dancing”, thus excluding a physical phenomenon only. Someone has thought that this ‘dance’ could be considered as a form of ‘homage’ which John renders to Jesus, inaugurating, though not yet born, that attitude of respect and of subjection which will characterize his life: “After me is coming someone who is more powerful than me, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals” (Mk 1, 7). One day, John himself will give witness: “it is the bridegroom who has the bride; and yet the bridegroom’s friend, who stands there and listens to him, is filled with joy at the bridegroom’s voice. This is the joy that I feel and it is complete. He must grow greater, I must grow less” (Jn 3, 29-30). Thus Saint Ambrose comments: “Elizabeth was the first one to hear the voice, but John is first to perceive the grace”. We find a confirmation of this interpretation in the words themselves of Elizabeth which, repeating the same Greek verb in v. 44. which was already employed in v. 41, says: “The child in my womb leapt for joy”. Luke, with these particular details, has wished to evoke the prodigies which took place in the intimacy of Nazareth. It is only now, thanks to the dialogue with an interlocutor, the mystery of the divine maternity leaves aside its secrecy and its individual dimension, to become a notable fact, and object of appreciation and of praise.
The words of Elizabeth, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” (vv. 42-43). With a Semitic expression which is equivalent to a superlative (“among women”), the Evangelist wishes to attract the attention of the reader on the function of Mary: to be the “Mother of the Lord”. And, then, a blessing is reserved for her (“Blessed are you”) and a blessed Beatitude. In what does this one consist? It expresses Mary’s adherence to the Divine Will. Mary is not only the receiver of a mysterious design which makes her blessed, but also a person who knows how to accept and adhere to God’s will. Mary is a creature who believes, because she trusts in a plain, simple word and which she has vested with her “yes” of love. And Elizabeth acknowledges this service of love, identifying her as “blessed as mother and blessed as believer”.
In the meantime, John perceives the presence of his Lord and exults, expressing with that interior movement the joy which springs from that contact of salvation. Mary will be the interpreter of that event in the hymn of the Magnificat.
b) A song of love:
In this song Mary considers herself part of the anawim, of the “poor of God”, of those who “fear God” placing in Him all their trust and hope and who, on the human level, do not enjoy any right or prestige. The spirituality of the anawim can be synthesized with the words of Psalm 37, 79: “In silence he is before God and hopes in him”, because “those who hope in the Lord will possess the earth”.
In Psalm 86, 6 the one who prays, turning to God says: Give your servant your force”: Here the term ‘servant’ expresses his being subjected, as well as the sentiment of belonging to God, of feeling secure with him.
The poor, in the strictly Biblical sense, are those who place their trust unconditionally in God; this is why they are to be considered, qualitatively, the best part, of the People of Israel.
The proud, instead, are those who place all their trust in themselves.
Now, according to the Magnificat, the poor have a thousand reasons to rejoice, because God glorifies the anawim (Psalm 149, 4) and humbles the proud. An image taken from the New Testament, which expresses very well the attitude of the poor of the Old Testament, is that of the Publican who with humility beats his breast, while the Pharisee being complacent of his merits is being consumed by his pride (Lk 19, 9-14). Definitively, Mary celebrates all that God has done in her and all that he works in every creature. Joy and gratitude characterize this hymn to salvation which recognizes the greatness of God, but which also makes great the one who sings it.
c) Some question for meditation:
- Is my prayer, above all, the expression of a sentiment or celebration and acknowledgement of God’s action?
- Mary is presented as the believer in the Word of the Lord. How much time do I dedicate to listening to the Word of God?
- Is your prayer nourished from the Bible, as was that of Mary? Or rather am I dedicated to devotions which produce a continuous tasteless and dull prayer? Are you convinced that to return to Biblical prayer is the assurance to find a solid nourishment, chosen by Mary herself ?
- Are you in the logics of the Magnificat which exalts the joy of giving, of losing in order to find, of accepting, the happiness of gratuity, of donation?
a) Psalm 44 (45)
The Psalm in this second part, glorifies the Queen. In today’s Liturgy these verses are applied to Mary and celebrate her greatness and beauty.
In your retinue are daughters of kings,
the consort at your right hand in gold of Ophir.
Listen, my daughter,
attend to my words and hear;
forget your own nation
and your ancestral home,
then the king will fall in love with your beauty;
he is your lord, bow down before him.
Her companions are brought to her,
they enter the king's palace with joy and rejoicing.
b) Final Prayer:
The prayer which follows is a brief meditation on the maternal role of Mary in the life of the believer: “Mary, woman who knows how to rejoice, who knows how to exult, who allows herself to be invaded by the full consolation of the Holy Spirit, teach us to pray so that we may also discover the source of joy. In Elizabeth’s house, your cousin, feeling accepted and understood in your most intimate secret, you burst out in a hymn of exultation of the heart, speaking of God, of you about your relationship with him, and of the unprecedented adventure already begun of being the Mother of Christ and of all of us, holy people of God. Teach us to give our prayer a rhythm of hope and tremors of joy, sometimes worn out by bitter whining and soaked with melancholy almost as obliged. The Gospel speaks to us about you, Mary, and of Elizabeth: both of you kept in your heart something, which you did not dare or you did not wish to manifest to anyone. But each one of you, felt understood by the other, on that prophetic day of the Visitation and you pronounced words of prayer and of feast. Your encounter becomes Liturgy of thanksgiving and of praise to your ineffable God. You, woman of a profound joy, you sang the Magnificat, in rapture and amazed at all that the Lord was operating in his humble servant. Magnificat is the cry, the explosion of joy, which explodes within each one of us, when one feels accepted and understood”.
The Virgin Mary, the temple of the Holy Spirit, accepted with faith the Word and surrendered herself completely to the power of Love. Because of this she became the Icon of interiority, that is all recollected under the look of God and abandoned to the power of the Most High. Mary keeps silence about herself, because everything in her can speak about the wonders of the Lord in her life.