Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Vincent de Paul Church, Fort Wayne
In the beautiful first reading today from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, in just seven verses, we heard 21 exhortations from St. Paul about how we Christians should interact with others, with believers and unbelievers. Don’t worry – I’m not going to talk about all 21 of these exhortations, but I would like to talk about some of them in light of our liturgy today.
First, I was invited to celebrate this Mass here at St. Vincent’s today by John Becker since the Board of Directors of Worldwide Seminarian Support is meeting here today and tomorrow. As you may know, this wonderful apostolate, which is celebrating its 28th anniversary, financially supports the education of seminarians here in our diocese and especially in needy communities around the world like in Tanzania. Parishioners here at St. Vincent’s and the Knights of Columbus Council here have been very generous to this apostolate and I thank you. You have heeded one of St. Paul’s exhortations in today’s reading: “Contribute to the needs of the holy ones.” St. Paul was urging the Christians in Rome to support fellow believers in times of hardship. When he wrote this letter, Paul was leading a campaign to collect donations from his congregations to provide relief to the impoverished church in Jerusalem. Every time we donate to special causes in the Church, like support of seminarian education, we are heeding St. Paul’s exhortation to contribute to the needs of the holy ones. That is one of our duties as Catholics.
St. Paul’s exhortations were guided partly by the counsels of the Old Testament and partly by the words and example of Jesus. But we also see these exhortations lived out in the event of the Visitation, in the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth and their unborn infants. His first exhortation, “let love be sincere,” is seen in Mary going to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth. She went out of love to help her in her pregnancy.
“Be fervent in spirit,” St. Paul says. This means to be enthusiastic to serve. The Gospel tells us that Mary travelled in haste to a town of Judah. She was fervent in spirit. Elizabeth and Zechariah didn’t live in the same region, Galilee. They lived about 90 miles away in the region of Judea. Mary travelled that long distance with haste because she was fervent in the spirit of love and wanted to help and serve her cousin. As Christians we are called to be fervent in spirit, enthusiastic to serve like Mary was.
Another exhortation of St. Paul: “Love one another with mutual affection.” We see the mutual affection of Mary and Elizabeth at the Visitation.
“Anticipate one another in showing honor.” Mary honored Elizabeth by visiting her. Elizabeth recognized this and when she asked: “how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth was honored by Mary’s visit. But Mary was also honored by Elizabeth when Elizabeth cried out: “Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” How often do we honor others? As Christians, we should be eager to honor others more than ourselves.
Two of the exhortations of St. Paul today are about joy. He says: “Rejoice in hope” and “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” There’s a lot of rejoicing at the event of the Visitation. Elizabeth rejoiced when she saw Mary. Her unborn child, John the Baptist, rejoiced. The Gospel tells us he leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. Mary also rejoiced. In her beautiful canticle, the Magnificat, she said: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” We too find our joy in the hope of salvation. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Christian faith is a joyful faith because the Gospel of Jesus is good news.
St. Paul also exhorts us to serve the Lord. At the Annunciation, Mary had identified herself as the servant, the handmaid of the Lord. At the Visitation, in her Magnificat, she calls herself God’s servant when she says: “He has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” Mary was always eager to serve the Lord. She was His perfect disciple. She is our greatest example discipleship who teaches us to be servants of the Lord and to be eager to serve Him.
St. Paul exhorts us: “do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation.” St. Paul was exhorting the Roman Christians to be humble. The Romans weren’t known for their humility. The lowly weren’t respected. Respect was for the aristocrats. Like St. Paul, Mary teaches us not to be haughty and proud. She says in the Magnificat that God “has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” Of course, Mary herself was filled with humility – she called herself God’s lowly servant.
In contemplating today’s feast, three titles of Mary came to my mind: Our Lady of Charity, Cause of Our Joy, and Our Lady of Humility. She teaches us charity, joy and humility. Let us learn from Mary and her virtues. Today, in a special way we say to Mary what Elizabeth said to her at the Visitation: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”