Tag Archives: Visitation

Pieces of God’s Mosaic

BrianBrian Florin
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014 & 2015)
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

When I was in high school, I had a lot going for me. I was well-known by my peers, found much success in the classroom, was involved in my Church, was a varsity athlete, had a girlfriend, was prom king. I even starred in the school play while helping my basketball team win the state championship on the same day. I felt like Troy Bolton. I wasTroy Bolton soaring. And I was flying. Except for the fact that I didn’t win the state championship. And I didn’t star in any school play…ever. Despite not having a voice as smooth as Troy’s, I still knew what I was better at in comparison to my peers, and I liked that.

Things suddenly changed when I set foot on Notre Dame’s campus freshman year. By the end of first semester, I lacked all the confidence that I had in high school. I felt outmatched and out of my league in every aspect. Everywhere I turned there was someone who did better than me on an exam. There was a better athlete. Someone who told jokes better. A better friend. People were even better than me at praying. I quickly fell into a habit of comparing myself to other people. I gained and lost my self-worth with every failure and success of another. No longer was I top in my class or the best on the basketball court. I found myself overwhelmed by the talent of those around me; with that, I lost sight of my own gifts and abilities. I remember thinking time and time again, “I’m not smart enough, not funny enough, not sociable enough, not even holy enough to be here or anywhere.”

In the summer of 2014, I helped at Notre Dame Vision for the first time as a rising Junior. I joined a group of some of the most faith-filled and talented students at Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross. For the first week and half, I constantly looked around me and found myself jealous of other mentors. I felt inadequate, and this impacted just about every aspect of the week; I would say to myself, “Why can’t you lead a small group like him or make your group laugh like her?” It even got to a point where my victory waffle wasn’t good enough anymore. The phrase “I’m not good enough” soon became one that I turned over and over in my head day after day.

VisitationOn a Tuesday night, during the Reconciliation service, I gazed at the paintings that lined the ceiling and walls of the Basilica. Just above a group that awaited their turn for reconciliation was the painting of the Visitation that I had seen many times, but never quite from this angle. While I would normally glance over this, I was struck by the way that Elizabeth greeted Mary with such joy and happiness. A sense of peace washed over me as I looked in awe at the depiction of this beautiful exchange. Elizabeth wasn’t jealous of Mary for being chosen as the Mother of God. Rather, she rejoiced in the faith and belief of Mary that allowed for such a miracle to take place. Elizabeth’s joy was so incredible that John the Baptist even leapt in her womb!

In this moment, I began to realize that we too are called to leap for joy at the beauty of one another’s gifts and successes. The jealousy that I’d had of those around me blinded me from being able to recognize their gifts. Not only that, but I had lost sight of what I was good at too. I had become so focused on “not being good enough” according to my comparisons that I rejected the idea that in God’s eyes, I was enough.

Each Sunday at my parish during the collection, the priest invites the children to come forward and place their offerings in a basket at the front of the altar. Some kids immediately sprint up to the front of the altar while others tentatively make their way to the front, looking back at their parents for reassurance. There are always some kids though that stand on the altar and watch in amazement as another child places their envelope in the basket and runs back to their seat. In this moment, these children are content with themselves, yet completely awestruck at the sight of another child. Jesus tells his disciples to be like the children. I began to realize how beautiful it is to have a childlike recognition of others.  “Lord, give me the eyes to see as they do” became my silent prayer.

Now, if you’ve ever seen
Mosaic making a mosaic,
from far away you see a beautiful picture or image. But as you move closer to the image, you begin to see that the mosaic is made up of many tiny pieces that contribute to the larger picture. Without one of the pieces, the image would be distorted in some way. Through our own unique gifts and talents, quirks and idiosyncrasies, you and I are the many tiny pieces that make up God’s grand mosaic; His beautiful picture of creation. Comparing myself to others was in fact distorting my perception of this beautiful image. I didn’t realize that I didn’t have to be, nor was I supposed to be exactly like the person next to me, and they weren’t supposed to be exactly like me. We each contributed something unique to God’s Mosaic.

I have definitely realized that comparing myself to others is a lifelong struggle. But, when I find myself falling back into this cycle of jealousy and comparison, I recall the joy with which Elizabeth greeted Mary; I pray to see as the children do when they look with amazement upon one another, and I am reminded of my own giftedness and worthiness in the eyes of the Creator. I am reminded that He calls each of us by our own name, and claims us as His own. I am a piece of God’s grand design. We are all pieces of His beautiful picture.

 

The Visitation: A Far-Reaching Encounter

Danielle Peters-cropDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt, Sisters of Mary

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame

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Formerly commemorated on July 2, the liturgical calendar revision authorized by Bl. Pope Paul VI places the feast of the Visitation on May 31—after the Annunciation (March 25) and before the Birthday of St. John the Baptist (June 24). This year, the feast coincides with the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and therefore will not be celebrated liturgically; nevertheless, it is well worthwhile to contemplate the mystery of the Visitation, and to ponder how it might be connected to the Trinitarian mystery.

In his 1974 Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, Pope Paul VI noted that “the liturgy (of the Visitation) recalls the Blessed Virgin carrying her Son within her and visiting Elizabeth to offer charitable assistance and to proclaim the mercy of God” (§7). Hence, this encounter of two pregnant relatives recorded in Luke’s Gospel is not just a friendly family reunion. The Visitation is a salvific event occurring at the intersection of the old and new covenant. Elizabeth, a type of the Old Testament’s promise, meets in Mary the New Testament’s fulfillment of her own destiny. Both find themselves in an extraordinary situation: an unwed teenager and a married woman who is beyond the age of child bearing. We can only imagine the sentiments with which each greets the other. Was there pure joy? Or was there also room for fear and unsettledness?

Scripture tells us that “Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea” (Lk 1:39). She travels the strenuous way of approximately 90 miles in intimate union with the Savior growing within her, confident that God accompanies her into the unknown future. The betrothed youth, still overwhelmed by what the angel had told her, needs this time away from Nazareth in order to ponder the incredible message that changed the course of her life and that of all generations to come. Who would believe her? She could hardly fathom this mystery herself! How will Joseph, her betrothed, react? Will he still marry her and assume the duties of parenthood of his foster son, or will he accuse her of disloyalty?

The narration of the Visitation offers an insight into Mary’s encounter with a human being after the Annunciation who not only made public Mary’s secret but who also shared in the mystery. How consoling it must have been for Mary to be welcomed by her relative whose embrace shelters, affirms, and encourages the “Mother of the Lord.”

Franz Anton Maulbertsch, Visitation (detail)
Franz Anton Maulbertsch, Visitation (detail)

St. John Paul II wrote in Redemptoris Mater: “When Elizabeth’s greeting bears witness to that culminating moment [i.e. the Annunciation], Mary’s faith acquires a new consciousness and a new expression” (§36).

The simultaneous invisible encounter of their unborn children is even more significant. Luke notes that John leaps in his mother’s womb, as a result of “seeing Jesus.” Tradition maintains that at this moment Elizabeth’s baby was sanctified in his mother’s womb (cf. Lk 1:15) in anticipation of his mission as the precursor of his cousin, the Messiah.

Like all mothers, Mary and Elizabeth knew that their “Yes” to their children was not a one-time decision. Many new affirmations were needed as new paths and challenges open up. Did these two holy women also experience the dilemma between a ready Yes to God’s will and a trembling, hesitating Yes in view of the consequences? Were there long sleepless nights during which they tried to grasp the scope of God’s will for them? In such situations it is good to be in a net of relationships through which this Yes is mutually supported and protected. The narrative of the Visitation is one of the most beautiful stories of family bonds recorded in Sacred Scripture. Mary feels at home with her relatives and gives expression to her “joy of spirit” in the Magnificat.

Mary remained three months with her relatives, devoting her time and assistance to the elderly couple. Above all, she brings the Christ Child to this house, providing the most fitting ambience for their baby to be born. Overwhelmed by this bliss, Zechariah eventually regains his ability to speak and is able to profess: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them” (Lk 1:68).

What does the encounter at the house of Elizabeth and Zachariah teach us? The Visitation highlights that the first journey of the Son of God after having been conceived in His mother’s womb was to a couple in crisis. This finds resonance with the challenges faced by married couples and families throughout the world today. Pope Francis is presently devoting his Wednesday audiences to the dignity and challenge of matrimony and family life. Two synods on the family as well as the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia are proof of the Church’s endeavor to fortify couples in their calling.

Where is the family without problems and worries, where everything runs perfectly and all are of one heart and mind? Aren’t we all in need of a visitation? Why not invite Mary to bring her Son into our homes? Then “salvation and joy” will also visit our family, helping all to love one another more faithfully, to become not just a group of people living under the same roof, but a communion of persons—a more faithful reflection of the divine love shared by the Persons of the Trinity. And it is here that we perhaps find a fitting connection between the mystery of the Visitation and the Solemnity being celebrated this Sunday, May 31.

Saving Communication

Danielle Zsupan-JeromeDaniella Zsupan-Jerome, Ph.D. 
Assistant Professor of Liturgy, Catechesis and Evangelization
Loyola Institute for Ministry,
Loyola University New Orleans
Author, Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age (Liturgical Press, 2014)

On January 23rd, 2015, Pope Francis published the annual World Communications Day Message, a regular tradition of the Roman Catholic Church since 1967. These annual messages offer a brief reflection on some aspect of social communication today, and in terms of published Church documents on the topic, these have kept the conversation going and relevant since the most recent social communications document we have from 2002. I look forward to the Message each year—it is the Church’s opportunity to go in and go deep with a focused reflection, without the necessary background and overview required of a longer document. In our digital culture where short and sweet reigns, these messages, averaging 10–15 paragraphs each, are Church documents made palatable for our digital appetites.

This year’s Message joins in to the larger theme on the mind of the Church: the family. Bearing the title “Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love,” Pope Francis draws us into the scene of the Visitation (Lk 1:39–56) to reflect on communication as it is learned and as it unfolds in the family. True to the style of these messages, Pope Francis goes in and goes deep—his thoughts about “the womb as the first school of communication, a place of listening and physical contact where we begin to familiarize ourselves with the outside world” are profound and will animate my spiritual reflection on this topic for a long time.

When it comes to the theology of communication, Roman Catholic thought relies significantly on the theology of revelation. We ponder how God has communicated Godself to humankind, and how that communication is offered in its fullest in the person of Jesus Christ. (Dei Verbum, §2). Christ is called the Perfect Communicator, elevating his words and actions, but also and more fundamentally highlighting the union of his divine and human natures as already a profound and intimate act of communication between God and humankind (Communio et Progressio, §11). From Christ, the Word made flesh, we also ponder the Spirit, who gives us the ability to speak (Acts 2:4) and we maintain a strong impetus for communication in the mission and evangelizing identity of the Church. And what is liturgy, if not the perfect language for us to continue to say who we are as Church? And what is service and ministry, if not the revelation of the Word made actual in faith?

Into this theological context on communication, Pope Francis invites two pregnant women embracing one another in such joy that makes infants in the womb leap. Reflecting on the first chapter of Luke— from the angel’s arrival to Mary’s song—profoundly enriches theological reflection on communication, and makes a strong case for communication as a central aspect of the story of salvation. As one of the first moments of the Christian story is a messenger of God’s Word bringing that Word to a young woman who offers her “yes” of hospitality to it, we may wonder if, on a most basic level, we are saved by communication. And if so, in what way does this saving communication speak to our digital culture today, where in many cases, communication needs actual saving? (See the cases of Brianna Wu, National Catholic Reporter, Amanda Hess, Justine Sacco for examples of communication and online harassment, verbal violence and public shaming.)

The fact that the Christian story begins with an act of communication is profound. We have an angel (literally “a messenger” or official carrier of the Word of God) coming to Mary with an active Word that is both heralded and made actual through her acceptance of it in faith. The angel heralds the Word as he explains God’s promise to Mary (“Behold, in your womb you shall conceive and bear a son. . .” and “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. . .”), but it is Mary who will become carrier of it, as her fiat opens her mind, heart, and body in hospitality to the Word and it becomes flesh within her. We praise Mary for her faithful fiat, but it is also an amazing lesson on communication: a posture of listening, openness, hospitality to the Word culminating in a life-giving response.

Visitation medieval
The Visitation by Master MS, 1506, Hungarian National Gallery

I love also that communication begets communication in this passage. The actual Word in the womb of Mary animates her to become a communicator of it immediately.   The first step after Mary’s yes to the angel is her “setting out to the hill country in haste” to go see Elizabeth. As Mary greets Elizabeth, her very act of communication (that is, a word of greeting) is so filled with grace that the unborn baby John recognizes it and leaps in the womb, and Elizabeth too becomes filled with the Holy Spirit and “cries out in a loud voice saying ‘Most blessed are you among women’” (Lk 1:42). As soon as Mary receives the Word in her womb, she becomes a communicator of the Word, and Mary’s communication begets Elizabeth’s communication. The Word reverberates powerfully through the story, grace-filled words stirring Spirit-led joy, evoking words of blessing in turn.

The climax of the story is the Magnificat, Mary’s heart-song that she offers powerfully, prophetically—imagining this young woman saying these ancient words is seeing evidence of the Word inside her animating her. These words are the first we hear from Mary after she conceives, her first recorded words as carrier of the Word. They are words of joy, awe, hope, promise, trust, strength, freedom, and justice. They begin to tell of Jesus Christ before he is born to speak for himself in the countless ways he will. The lessons on communication continue, giving us a sense of what Word and Spirit sound like when a faithful person gives herself over to them in an act of communication. St. Paul too identifies the gifts and fruits of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7–11; Gal 5:22–23) and we see these resounding in the Magnificat.

What does saving communication hold for the saving of communication? It offers us intentionality, a posture to take on when engaging in communication in and through the mirifica technicae artis of digital communication.  It is a posture of listening, openness, hospitality. It is welcoming and seeking to offer a life-giving Word. It is commitment to the question, to seek and to learn more before jumping to a narrow and condemning conclusion. It is a recognition of encounter and of presence when considering the other behind the screen. It is communication infused with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control—the fruits of God’s Spirit animating the communicative act. It is an authentic outward movement to meet the other, traveling in haste to the hill country with a message of joy that begets joy. It is making way for Good News to be born, lived, shared.

W.W.J.D: Imitating Christ in the Womb

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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What would Jesus do . . .  Like many kids growing up in the ’90s, I could often be seen sporting the fashionable ‘W.W.J.D’ bracelets as a child. For those of you who missed out on the craze, these bracelets were created in Holland, Michigan (just down the interstate from my hometown of Grand Rapids), came in all kinds of colors, and were especially popular among Christian youth groups. ‘W.W.J.D’ bracelets were meant to serve as stylish reminders (very stylish reminders, mind you) that Christians are called to imitate Christ, and in all we do we are to look to him as our example and guide.

My old ‘W.W.J.D’ bracelets came to mind recently when I came across an excerpt taken from one of Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C.’s sermons:

“In whatever interior dispositions you may be and in whatever life situation you may find yourself, look at your Model and apply yourself to imitating him; be assured that in doing so you will be perfect and you will have a sure guarantee of your salvation; because our movement toward glory depends on our resemblance to Jesus Christ.” (see Br. Joel Giallanza, C.S.C., Praying from the Heart of Holy Cross Spirituality: a 30-Day Retreat with Basil Moreau, xvii)

Conformity to Christ, while of course an aspiration of Christians in1-59471-232-8.jpg.x625 all walks of life, is often especially pointed to as an essential element of the spirituality that animates the Congregation of Holy Cross—the University of Notre Dame’s founding religious community. This was certainly a pillar for Bl. Basil Moreau, the Congregation’s founder, who wrote that “Christianity is nothing else than the life of Jesus Christ reproduced in our conduct.” Br. Joel Giallanza, C.S.C., author and editor of many titles that capture the essence of the charism of Holy Cross, even goes so far as to call this conformity or imitation of Christ “the basis of Holy Cross spirituality,” writing: “It must pervade our entire day, every day. Because this conformity must be complete, there are no exceptions” (ibid).

What would Jesus do…

As Moreau points out, imitation of Christ has always been a central tenet of Christianity. To see this, one need look no further than Christ’s own words when he commanded his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him (Mt 10:38, 16:24; Lk 9:23), or to Thomas à Kempis’ (c.1380–1472) widely-circulated Imitation of Christ, and, again, to the more recent popularization of ‘W.W.J.D.’

Today, we’re constantly reminded and challenged, in a variety of contexts—from smaller-scale individual situations to wider ecclesial (and sometimes even cultural) debates on gay marriage or divorce and remarriage, for example—to think about what Jesus would ‘do.’ In these kinds of contexts, Christ’s actions often take center-stage. We recall a Jesus who welcomed sinners and dined with tax collectors, who drew lines in the sand and spit in the mud, who rode an ass and flipped tables and performed miracles and carried a cross.

But how often do we contemplate  the fact that Jesus, like us, spent significant parts of his life in wait? And what does it mean to imitate Christ during these periods? If we are to conform to Christ in “whatever interior dispositions you may be and in whatever life situation you may find yourself,” as Moreau writes, how might we imitate Christ during the season of Advent, when our interior disposition is supposed to be one of expectation?

I do not have concrete answers to these questions, but I put these thoughts forward as more of a personal contemplation on what I see as one of the most mysterious (and often neglected) periods of expectation in the life of Christ: the nine months spent in his mother’s womb.

We are told that when Christ was in the womb, Herod was king of Judea (Lk 1:5), Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph (Lk 1:27), and shortly after being conceived Jesus was declared “blessed” by Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, while the infant in Elizabeth’s own womb “leapt for joy” upon hearing the voice of the pregnant Mary (Lk 1:41-42). Did Christ feel love for his cousin, when his body was little more than a heartbeat? Did his barely-formed human mind comprehend the enormity of what was about to be fulfilled (and begun) nine months later in Bethlehem? Did his tiny ears prickle with delight at the holy conversations and excited whispers that must have transpired between his mother and her cousin during the three months the two spent in each other’s company?Mary-Ellizabeth-rejoiceWhat patience it must have cost the Son of God to wait expectantly for that day when he could finally be born into temporality, that man might be born into eternity, only to have to wait another thirty years for the world to know the love that he came to reveal. How difficult it must have been, lying in wait in his mother’s womb and then seeing the faces of families, rabbis, merchants, and customers day after day, sweating in the hot Nazarene sun—did he know at that time what he was going to accomplish on Calvary? Did he have to consciously withhold the light of Mt. Tabor, only to later endure the mocking and rejection of those who should have known him best after all those years? (Mk 6:1-6)

To the extent that we can speak of Christ cultivating virtue, what virtue might he have cultivated during these periods? I often wonder how much of our salvation was worked toward during these silent times, of which we will remain ignorant until we meet our Savior face to face.

There are many legitimate and fruitful ways to approach Advent and prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas.our-lady-of-the-new-advent-image3 But it seems that Moreau’s exhortation to imitate Christ in “whatever interior dispositions you may be and in whatever life situation you may find yourself” could also be an invitation to look especially to Christ’s own periods of waiting or expectation—such as his time in the womb of his mother or the thirty years spanning from his birth to the start of his formal ministry—and to imitate whatever virtues we may find there.

Perhaps this Advent we can look more closely at and begin to cultivate something like a devotion to Christ in the womb. This Christ, too, like the Christ who Scripture tells us calls, heals, teaches, forgives, and sanctifies, may have something to say to the heart, and possibly even to our culture at large.

Revisiting Mass

Sam BellafioreSam Bellafiore
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

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Also by this author: Church Music Association of America Colloquium

I don’t associate communal prayer with the invitation to “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:11). Meditating on Scripture by myself, walking alone: perhaps. With others: less so. Least of all at Mass, sad to say. A recent experience reminded me that my associations are a bit misguided and provided an opportunity to reflect on the depth of the mystery of the Visitation.

From June 30 to July 6, I attended the Church Music Association of America’s annual colloquium, a gathering of church musicians from throughout the United States and Canada. Each day’s packed scheduled culminated in the celebration of Mass. Two of the conference’s six Masses occurred in the Extraordinary Form, the form of the Mass promulgated in 1962. While the current Roman calendar celebrates the feast of the Visitation on May 31, the 1962 calendar celebrates it on July 2. As a result, I got to celebrate the Visitation a second time this year.

Attending the Extraordinary Form can be jarring. It features everything that, when I was a child, adults had described without joking as the “bad old days.” The Mass is in Latin. The priest and congregation face the same direction. The Eucharistic Canon is lengthy and the priest says most of it silently.

Extraordinary FormOver the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Extraordinary Form about a dozen times, in settings from a thousand-person congregation, an orchestra and Mozart’s Requiem to a cramped chapel with ten people. The most striking thing about these liturgies has been their silence. For the Visitation, the colloquium congregation sang a Gregorian chant setting of the Mass ordinary. As always, silence fell over the whole church after the Sanctus. The thick silence speaks for itself: something significant is happening. It confronts worshippers with the magnitude of the Mass. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” He is coming, very soon. Be still and know that it is he.

This silence affords worshippers a certain space and freedom. One can pray the text of the Canon, reflect on the Gospel or simply kneel and be. As a hyperactive college student, this has been a healing way to experience the Mass. Even though congregants may be praying slightly different kinds of internal prayer, everyone is united in praying the Mass.

Reflecting on the Annunciation in December, Pope Francis said, “Silence is really the ‘cloud’ that covers the mystery of our relationship with the Lord…where there is no silence in our lives, the mystery is lost, it goes away. Guard the mystery with silence!” Some things are so awesome they must be proclaimed on rooftops, some so awesome they remain unspeakable. The Mass, it seems, is both. If anything deserves rooftop proclamation, it is the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, and their reality in the Mass. But if there is anything before which humanity must also stand mute, it is those events.

Sound ebbs and flows throughout the liturgy, creating a rhythmic structure for the Church’s prayer, revealing the importance of both sound and silence. The Visitation narrative presents not only an interaction between people but also the relation between their sounds and silences.

The Visitation-El GrecoMary hastens to Elizabeth after Gabriel’s announcement. In Pope Francis’ December reflection, he presents Mary as a model of silence and suggests she may have remained completely silent after Gabriel departed. How would a person react to that staggering news, perhaps even more mysterious to Mary than to us now?

In the verse after the angel departs Mary goes up to visit Elizabeth, bearing the growing God in her body. She cannot contain her good news, so she goes to aid Elizabeth and relate her great joy. John, who cannot speak, leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greets her, even before Elizabeth can respond. Then Elizabeth “crie[s] out in a loud voice” (Lk 1:42) and exclaims Mary’s blessedness. Elizabeth recounts to Mary what the narrator has already recounted, that John leapt at Mary’s greeting.

John’s leap is mentioned twice. While Elizabeth’s line—“For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:44)—is well known, the third-person narrator is the first to mention John’s leap, just before Elizabeth’s line. This structure makes John an active part of the narrative, not just someone about whom his mom talks. While the reader learns of John’s action through the written text, Mary learns it because Elizabeth cries it out in a loud voice. John, of course, cannot say a word. His inability to speak does not mean his silence is an inferior substitute for speaking; his silence is good on its own. His silent expression of joy is its own word, a testimony to Christ’s presence. This word he speaks silently becomes a subject of Elizabeth’s own words spoken aloud, as each of them greets the bearer of the Word, who also cannot speak yet. Mary in turn cries out with the Magnificat, proclaiming God’s greatness.

The apparent protagonists respond to the Incarnation of the unseen and true protagonist, each in his or her own way. Mary, who silently “kept all these things close to her heart” (Lk 2:19, 51), responds first perhaps with silence and then with haste and loud exultation; John, the voice crying out in the wilderness, in silent joy; Elizabeth, the woman who didn’t expect a child and is now expecting both John and her Messiah, cries out with irrepressible excitement.

Of course, the mystery of the Visitation is not primarily about sound or silence. It is about the mystery of Christ’s presence and the mystery it engenders, true joy. Mary, John, and Elizabeth can serve as images for sound and silence at Mass. Each of them comes to know that the child in their midst is God. Be still and know. At Mass, as at the Visitation, the mystery of Christ’s coming receives expression both in sound and in quiet. Mass is not a matter simply of either silence or sound but of joy.

When the Church gathers for Mass Christ invites her, “rejoice at the presence of the Lord, for he comes to rule the earth.” (Ps 98:9) She realizes that “you make him rejoice with the joy of your presence.” (Ps 21:7) In my haste and my noisiness, I often lose sight of that joy and that presence. Attending Mass in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms has reminded me of the fullness of rejoicing present at the Visitation and still present when the Word Incarnate hastens to greet us.

Sound, silence, and the Visitation comprise a welcome and needed reminder of the joy of the Gospel and of the Eucharist, an astonishing joy but easily forgotten. As the Church prays after Communion on the Ordinary Form feast of the Visitation, “as Saint John the Baptist leapt with joy when he first sensed the hidden presence of Christ, so may your Church rejoice to receive in this Sacrament the same ever-living Lord.”

Visiting in Joy

Jessica MannenJessica Mannen

Master of Divinity Candidate, University of Notre Dame

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For those called to ministry, the Visitation provides an important model. It is immediately preceded by the story of the Annunciation, the importance of which is almost a cliché for those in discernment: Mary is called by God, and her fiat opens her up to bring God to the world in her own unique way. The story that follows might also provide us an important insight. Visitation-The Journey of MaryAlthough in a vulnerable position herself, Mary rushes to the aid of her relative Elizabeth. No doubt, she still has questions and doubts about her own situation. This was not part of her plans, and in fact presents a huge disruption to the life she was about to have. She knows how shameful this will appear; she does not know what her parents, neighbors, and fiancé will think. Anxiety, risk, and all the natural challenges of pregnancy and childbirth still await her, but she hurries to be of service to another as soon as she hears of her need.

VisitationThose who work in ministry have not completed their journeys to God. We don’t reach some transcendent state of perpetually knowing and trusting God’s love. There are ups and downs to any human life. Our formation programs are vital for laying a foundation to carry us through those ups and downs, but we will nevertheless experience some unexpected heartbreak, some jarring discomforts, some hurt in this world stained by sin. In the midst of this messiness, though, we reach out to each other and offer service out of our brokenness and confusion.

The pair of the Annunciation and Visitation might carry both a great challenge and a great comfort to those who work in ministry. The challenge is, always, to be open to God’s message in whatever ways it comes into our lives, and to be ever-willing to act on that message. But then the comfort comes, for there are times of doubt for anyone who pursues ministry seriously. After all, we all struggle to pray sometimes; how then can we lead others in prayer? If we wonder at times whether God loves us, how can we tell other people that God surely loves them? When we have these doubts, we might remember Mary’s ministry to Elizabeth. Icon of the VisitationShe is best-suited to help Elizabeth through the challenging period of pregnancy not because she is above that situation, but exactly because she shares it. It is because Mary experiences God with Elizabeth that she is such an effective minister.

Mary traveled to her cousin to share her doubts and anxieties, but the closeness of God also leaves an undeniable joy, and Mary and Elizabeth share this joy as well as their challenges. The prayer said by Mary at the Visitation, the Magnificat, is the outpouring of this joy. When the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, she finds that God is in her, more literally than for most of us. And she has to share the experience. We, too, have moments of discovering the presence of God within us, even in the midst of our confusion and messiness. May we, like, Mary, travel in haste to share the joy of that discovery with those who might need it.