Friday, May 31, 2013

Happy Solemnity of the Visitation!

For most of the world, today is the Feast of the Visitation, but here, at the Toledo Visitation Monastery, it's a Solemnity, the highest rank for liturgical celebrations.  Thus besides singing the Gloria at Mass today we also prayed the Creed and at the end of Mass had a special Papal Blessing.  That's because this is the patronal feast of the Visitation Order. 

Writing about the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, Wendy Wright captures well the spirit of the Visitation Sisters.  The following passage from her book Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition speaks of the place that the mystery of the Visitation held for the founders, St. Jane Frances de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales:

"It was the Virgin, dear to Jane's own heart since childhood, who was the patroness of the fledgling foundation. And it was the biblical image of Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56) that summarized in iconic fashion the spirit of the new congregation. The mystery of the Visitation for Jane and Francis summed up all the Christian mysteries, and as such it was first and foremost a mystery that expressed the dynamics of love. ... Since love wants to be shared, it likes to visit. Indeed, the mystery of the Incarnation, captured in the biblical scene of the Annunciation, was seen as God's 'kiss' to humanity, God's loving union with humankind through Mary, the spouse and lover. ... Having been visited and prompted, Mary in her turn recapitulates this loving dynamic: she hastens to the hill country and the house of her cousin Elizabeth. There, these two pregnant women meet--one older, long barren and now expecting, the other young and ripe with Love's own longing for the world" (pp. 52-3).

Two hallmarks of the spirituality of the Visitation are humility and gentleness.  God visited Mary with humility and gentleness as the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. Divine humility and gentleness are seen in how God comes to us: not with an army of angels to force the divine plan of love on the world, but as a tiny baby to attract and invite humanity's loving response.

I've often said that humility is not thinking less of oneself but thinking of oneself less.  It's not putting oneself down but taking the attention off oneself.  We see this in Mary after the Annunciation.  She does not think of herself but of her elderly cousin and so she races to her.  At their meeting, Elizabeth praises Mary as "most blessed ... among women."  Mary accepts this praise, recognizing that "all generations will call me blessed," but then she humbly gives credit where credit is due saying, "the Almighty has done great things for me." True humility is truthful and it involves getting the focus off  oneself and onto God and neighbor. 

Mary carried Jesus to Elizabeth. In doing so she was, as Blessed John Paul II put it, "the first tabernacle in history."   He wrote the following in his last encyclical: "When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a “tabernacle” – the first “tabernacle” in history – in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary."

Pope John Paul also wrote that Mary's "Fiat" at the Annunciation--"let it be done to me according to your word"--is echoed in the "Amen" spoken when we receive Holy Communion. In the Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ into ourselves. He joins Himself to us in an intimate union in which the two become one flesh (see Ephesians 5: 31-2).  In that sense we too, one with the Body of Christ, become tabernacles carrying Christ into the world. We become "monstrances" who radiate His light through our eyes and voices. 

But it takes great humility to do this.  It means, in the words of St. John the Baptist, "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3: 30).  This is the goal of every Christian and the Visitation Sisters embody this ideal in a special way for us.

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