Image: “The Visitation,” Jacopo da Pontormo. (© Antonio Quattrone, Florence/Getty)
“During those days, Mary went with haste to the hill country, to a town of Judah, where She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said ‘Most blessed are You among women, and blessed is the fruit of Your womb. And how does this happen to me, that I should be visited by the Mother of my Lord?'”
Luke 1: 39-43
It isn’t really what you might expect, is it? Having just consented to becoming the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin suddenly sets out ‘with haste’ to visit Her cousin, Elizabeth. The first thing that strikes me is how practical Mary is. Incredible though Her own news certainly is, She knows that Her cousin is heavily preganant and probably in need of some assistance and perhaps support. The second thing that strikes me is Her humility – this is not about Her, but about Her cousin. And those two little words – ‘with haste’. How telling they are! Mary simply gets on with it – She wastes no time wool-gathering or contemplating the loftiness of Her position; someone is in need and She can help.
And it is precisely in undertaking this act of charity that Mary becomes what an ancient title of Hers proclaims Her to be – the ‘Theotokos’, or ‘God-Bearer’. In visiting Her cousin, Mary takes with Her the unborn Child in Her womb, the Christ Child. You could say, without too much fear of correction, that in this event, She becomes the very first Christian missionary; in the centuries to follow, many others will take Christ out into the world – but Mary was the first.
We, too, have the opportunity to take Christ out to the world. We can do it by our words, our teaching, our proclamation – but maybe the most powerful witness of all is by living with Christ in our hearts so that, like Mary, where we go, He goes too. I wodner if this is the most powerful form of witness – to teach by the example of our lives. People forget what we say to them; but they don’t forget how we make them feel and how we treat them. For Mary, She treated Her cousin with respect and reverence, and in humility. When we do similarly, the light of Christ shines out of us.
In order to treat others in this way, we need to see Christ in them – for it is Him that we are actually serving, as He reminds us in the Gospel – “whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me”.
And when we serve others in this way, they don’t see us – they see Christ shining out of us. As Elizabeth did with Mary – this is why Elizabeth recognised Mary as “the Mother of my Lord”.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, constantly gives us examples of serving others in this way – he puts into practice what the Gospel commands us to do. He offers a good example that we should follow. We may not have the means or ability to make a grand gesture – but then, it isn’t about grand gestures, it’s about doing little things with great love for our neighbour, out of love for Christ. It’s about giving whatever we have that we are able to give – often, our time, our skills, a consoling touch, a kind word. All for love of Him.
Let’s ask the Blessed Virgin to assist us in this, to obtain for us the grace of a burning charity towards all, following Her own example.