Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The fruit the first Eve gave to Adam triggered the landslide of our Fall; the fruit the new Eve gave us raised us from the rubble of death into the light of New Life. Today Elizabeth greets her cousin, Mary, with what has become part of one of our most beloved prayers, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Jesus: fruit of Mary’s womb, the fruit that hung upon the tree of the Cross—the Tree of Life—which we must eat to have eternal life. (John 6:53)
Mary is a woman who gave the entirety of her being to God who, in response, has given the entirety of Himself: Life for life. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” yet in all our Scriptures she hardly speaks a word, save for this great canticle. Her soul proclaims His greatness not so much in word, but more so in deed, and no greater deed has she done, by which all generations shall call her blessed, than to give to us what she received from God: His Son, Jesus.
By her example Mary shows us the life God desires for us, an exchange of self-giving. When Gabriel came to Mary on God’s behalf he told her of God’s desire to give Himself to the entire world by first giving Himself to her. Amazed, she asks how such a thing is possible, and the angel tells her that the Holy Spirit—the very living Love of God—will “overshadow” her. When she gives her fiat—“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)—she gives herself to the Father, who has “looked with favor on His lowly servant.” He gives Himself by the Spirit, Who Is the Gift of God’s Self, just as He gives Himself to His Son from all eternity. Mary’s entire being responds, body and soul, by conceiving God in her own flesh, and so she gives herself to God yet again as a mother to His—to their—Son. And the Son, likewise, gives Himself to her, submitting to the entire reality of conception and pregnancy, childhood, and the entirety of human existence, save sin. She knows that the relationship she enjoyed with God was unique and unrepeatable, but not without its image and likeness in the lives of others: her Son was not for her alone.
We see this realization hinted at in her song today when she sings “he has filled the hungry with good things…he has come to the help of his servant Israel…” Did Christ not teach us this in Sunday’s Gospel, that He has come Himself as food for those hungering for God? Mary shows us, beautifully, the kind of life God desires for us all: Jesus offers Himself in the Eucharist for us, and desires that we offer ourselves back, a relationship that will reach its zenith in Heaven. As this relationship deepens we find, as Mary did and as Elizabeth first enjoyed, that in giving ourselves to Christ we also become a gift to others, bearing Him within ourselves to all whom we encounter.
Grace: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty.
Reflection: In the meditation upon sin, we made reference to Dante’s vision of hell, a cold, desolate place where the fire of love has been extinguished and all lies in a spiritual torpor. This is the perfect image of the heart grown cold to the stirrings of love which God places within it. At the opposite end of Dante’s journey lies a vision that perfectly encapsulates the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. From the lowest reaches of the spiritual universe, Dante ascends to the heights of heaven, where he views “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” At the heart of the universe lives the Trinitarian God, whose perfect love draws all being into an ordered symphony of praise. Dante feels himself drawn into this harmonic vision through the enflaming of his passions and desires. No one with eyes to see can sit impassively at the vision of God’s love. From the disordered state in which Dante had fallen at the beginning of the poem, he becomes progressively cleansed of his disordered affections through the grace of God and the intercession of Beatrice until finally he is able to pass through the heavens and stand in the presence of God. But notice that Dante only sees God’s depths after he has been interiorly transformed.