FRIDAY HOMILY: The Visitation - A Divine Encounter
Mary's voice - the same voice that uttered her 'fiat' now speaks and creation comes alive. A baby rejoices and the Holy Spirit comes to confirm the event through Elizabeth.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On December 17 we started our journey to the manger in our Gospel readings. We began with a rehearsal of the genealogy, reflecting on the covenantal heritage of our Lord. We then listened in as Joseph learned about the significance of Mary's pregnancy from the angel.
The journey continued as we heard about another miraculous birth - John the Baptist - who would be the precursor to the Messiah and would be under a nazirite vow from the time of his birth. The announcement was made by Gabriel the Zechariah, who had been chosen by lot to offer an incense offering in the temple. His time of ministry in the Sanctuary was extended as this heavenly messenger explained what was taking place. Zechariah left the sanctuary unable to speak, and would remain that way until the birth of his son.
Yesterday, we were reminded of the divine encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary that we now call the annunciation. It was at that time that the Blessed Virgin uttered one word that changed the world - FIAT - "let it be." From that moment on things would never be the same. As St. Bernard said, "In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life... Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter."
The next stop on the journey to the manger is the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Here Mary comes to visit her relative, perhaps to congratulate her regarding the child in her womb or maybe to share the story of the visitation. Since there is no instant messaging system in those days, the visit would come as a totally unexpected blessing for the older woman.
And what an encounter! Mary doesn't even have a chance to tell Elizabeth the good news. John, still in the womb, and the Holy Spirit do it for her.
All it took was the sound of Mary's voice and the baby leaped in Elizabeth's womb. The forerunner of the Messiah has begun his prophetic ministry before he was even born. Set apart by God to play a critical role in salvation history, his sense for the presence of the Messiah was already finely tuned.
Mary's voice - the same voice that uttered her "fiat" now speaks and creation comes alive. A baby rejoices and the Holy Spirit comes to confirm the event through Elizabeth.
She utters a two-fold blessing, one for Mary and one for the child she is carrying. "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. "
These words, spoken by inspiration, have now been spoken billions of times over the centuries as Catholics and other Christians ponder the mysteries of our Lord.
Just as David danced with all his might in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant as it was brought into Jerusalem, so John leaped for joy before the divine Son of God, now incarnate in the ark of the New Covenant.
I don't leap like I used to, but I still get excited when something special is happening. Normally I'll throw my hands in the air and yell, "Yes!"
Celebration is a part of life. We root for our favorite teams and get excited when they score. We rejoice when a new child is born, when we get a promotion or finish a project around the house that turns out really nice.
How much more we should delight in the realization that God Himself visited earth, bringing truth and salvation to mankind. This is the ultimate gift and the real reason we celebrate Christmas.
John's leap was the first of many celebrations of our Lord's incarnation - His life, ministry, passion, death, resurrection and ascension. We even have a type of leap in thanksgiving when we offer each Mass. The final leap is yet to be experienced. As we declare in the Creed, "He will come again."
Elizabeth also knew that this child is special and rejoices in her privilege of being in the presence of the one who will be the savior of the world. "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
Elizabeth's astonishment is a sentiment that we could continue to express today. How does it happen that we have been graced with such an incredible visit? Mary carried our Lord for nine months in her womb and permanently in her heart. She bore Him during her visit to Elizabeth. She became the one through whom the Lord visited us with grace, truth and redemption.
J.B. Phillips captured this idea powerfully in a short story called, "The Visited Planet." In this short story a senior angel was giving a tour of the splendors of the universe to a junior angel when they came across a small, dirty and insignificant planet. However, this planet was unique, the more experienced angel explained, for this was "the visited planet."
In the story, the junior angel watched our little planet receive many small visits of grace that culminated in the actual visit, an intense pulse of light. The concentrated light stayed on the planet for awhile, then the planet went dark as the globe spun around three times and the pulse of light re-appeared more intense than ever.
Then the dazzling light disappeared again, returning to the "home of light." At that point the planet began to glow again, but this time with small pinpoints of light all over the world, as the Body of Christ grew upon the earth.
One of the options for the first reading today comes from the Song of Songs. In it the bride awaits eagerly the visitation of the groom. "Hark! My lover--here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills." (Song of Songs 2:8)
And the bridegroom arrives with an invitation. "Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come!"
In the Song of Songs, we get a glimpse of the love God has for us - the Body of Christ which is His bride on earth. "O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and you are lovely." (SS 2:14)
When we wonder why the God of the universe chose to visit us in bodily form, it all boils down to love. As that familiar Scripture from John 3:16 reads, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all who believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life."
This year all three of the priests in our local parish are co-teaching a section of 8th grade CCD in preparation for confirmation. As I look at the young faces in my class, some seem eager to learn the faith and some are semi-attentive. Many appear somewhat neutral. We also have those who were wishing they were somewhere else... anywhere else. CCD, to them, seems like a big waste of time.
How I wish I could effectively communicate to them the significance that we are the visited planet. In their preparation for confirmation, they are not learning mere principles but they are learning to understand a person - Jesus Christ. They are not just studying to obtain a certain status in the Church, they are being prepared to receive grace.
I think that, particularly in our day and age, it is very easy to turn Christianity into a system of thought or a philosophical approach to life. We can establish life based on simply following the ten commandments and its derivatives - much like early Judaism. We can also see Christian teachings as a series of doctrines to be believed and examples of lifestyle to be emulated.
As Elizabeth pointed out, it is so much more. When Mary showed up at her door, the very God of the universe was in her womb. The love of God the Father for mankind did not compel him to reveal a list of do's and don'ts he wanted us to follow. He did not send a manual on how He wanted the world to run. Instead, He sent His Son.
When Christ communicated the heart of the Godhead, it was not merely on the basis of formulas but faith, where we needed to accept a message of love and relationship. He wanted to know us and we to know Him.
This is what I want our eighth graders - in fact, all who hear the message - to seriously embrace: that God loves them and has made a way for them to spend eternity in fellowship with him. As we read in John 10:10, he "came that they might have life and have it abundantly."
How easy it is to forget the miracle of this event, that God the Son became a man. He desire to personally be involved in our planet - to walk where we walk and experience what we experience. We truly are the visited planet.
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus."
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