Just when I thought I was home free, it hit. I caught one of those nasty Spring viruses that come racing around the corner while you’re looking in the other direction. Because the buds are beginning to swell on the trees and the first warm breezes are beginning to blow, you forget about watching out for those creepy little bugs that infect you and send you reeling. I’d missed the last three that made their way through Fenelon Clan, and so I assumed that, at least until the cold weather returned, I was safe from sickness. Not. This one got me, and only me, plowed me under, and completely stole my voice. Now I sound like a blend of Donald Duck and nails on a chalkboard. I even get on my own nerves.
We’re at the end of May, and it’s tempting to think that we, too, are home free. We’ve done our duty to our Blessed Mother — we gave her flowers, some Rosaries and extra sacrifices — now it’s time to move on. We’re past all that Mary stuff, right? Not. Our May blossoms are just beginning to bloom. What we’ve worked on, strived for, offered up, only is beginning to come to fruition.
Before long, the Church will celebrate the Visitation — the feast commemorating Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth. During the month of May, hopefully, we made special effort to visit Mary through our prayers, spiritual reading, attendance at Mass, Holy Hours, trips to Marian pilgrimage places, and so on. The Visitation gives us the perfect opportunity to ask Mary to visit us, too, through her presence, her intercession and mediation of graces, and her motherly care.
When our Blessed Mother visited Elizabeth, a number of important and exciting things happened. First of all, Mary was unwed and pregnant. Not only that, but also she was a very young unwed mother. Many sources place her at about the age of 16; some as young as 13 or 14. Young, pregnant, and alone, she traversed more than 70 miles of dangerous, rough terrain in order to get to Judah, the territory in which Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. What’s more, in that time and culture, a woman accused of adultery could be stoned to death. Likely, Mary traveled in some kind of caravan, as was customary to insure protection against thieves and other no-good doers along the way. The travel risks may have been lessened, but the risk to her reputation — even her life — was not. She obviously was traveling without a spouse. What if someone got curious about her situation? That’s not to mention the physical discomforts of traveling while pregnant!
Once Mary reached Elizabeth’s house, a series of events took place that have impacted the Faith for more than two thousand years. When the two cousins met, Elizabeth greeted Mary as “the mother of my Lord”, thus fulfilling the Word of God. At that same moment, Elizabeth’s child, St. John the Baptist, leapt in her womb. I recently heard a homily in which the priest explained that in the original text, the word used for St. John’s leap was the same at that used to describe a goat jumping off a cliff. Nestled in his mother’s womb, John was able to sense the presence of Jesus and rejoiced over it. Simultaneously, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She, too, intuitively recognizes, not only the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb, but also that this made Mary the Mother of God, to be venerated for all Eternity as the holiest among women.
I often wonder if Elizabeth’s words are what made the Angel Gabriel’s message “sink in” for Mary. At the Annunciation, she heard the angel’s proclamation, she immediately accepted it, and pledged to allow God’s will to be done through her. But, humanly speaking, was it fully a reality for her? Perhaps it’s like when someone loses a lot of weight. The person might feel different, clothes might fit differently, but until someone else notices it, it doesn’t really register. Certainly Mary believed Gabriel — she was perfectly faithful in all things — but, could it be that it didn’t feel true for her until Elizabeth’s words of gratitude and veneration?
And what does Mary do? She turns the praise away from herself and toward God as she speaks her Magnificat, a beautiful prayer of glory and thanksgiving as well as a testimony to God’s mercy and goodness through the ages:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever” (Lu 1:46-55).
Mary stayed with Elizabeth until she was no longer needed — about three months — and then returned home. During that time, she served selflessly, putting the needs of others before her own. I can’t imagine that it was easy for her, but I can imagine that she did it with profound joy. What’s more, she’ll do the same for us if we allow her.
We’ve worked all May long to show Mary our love; the culmination of that work can and should be to invite her to visit us as she did Elizabeth. If it sounds like a daring proposition, it is. It’s daring because, if we dare to open our homes and hearts to her, she’ll dare to dwell there. Of course, her presence won’t be apparent to us — we won’t actually see her — but we will feel her presence through the joy she emanates and the grace she distributes. She’ll become a special member of our household, guiding and protecting us as we go about our daily lives. Like any good mother, she won’t push her way in; she’ll wait for an invitation.
Rather than tucking away the symbols of our May Marian devotions, maybe we could keep one or two out as a reminder that we want Mary to stay with us and to transform our homes and our hearts as she did for Elizabeth. The most simple invitation in the world will be enough to draw her right into our midst! She’ll do it because she’s our Mother, she loves us, and she wants to be with us. As did Elizabeth, all we have to say is, “Mary, I need you” and she’ll be there. It’s not time to let our May blossoms fade away; it’s time to bring them to full bloom.
(© 2011 Marge Fenelon)