My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
What a fitting end to this Marian month, we celebrate the Visitation today, when Mary “set out in haste” to see her cousin Elizabeth. The feast of the Visitation conjures up visions of two cousins, meeting and embracing. Like so many Marian stories, it is so easy to make it into something too sweet and pretty. This is one of the dangers of over-sentimentalizing something that is so deeply profound. For me, this story is at once, extraordinary, and ordinary.
In 2004, I had the good fortune to visit both Nazareth and Ein Kerem (Elizabeth’s home town). What struck me was the distance between the cities, and the terrain. This was not a simple walk from here to there; this was serious travel and not easy. Of course, we could ask, what journey of Mary’s was ever easy?
Another thing that strikes me is Mary’s eternal “yes,” her fiat, which means, “let it be done.” There is such immediacy to her responses. When I think of so many other people in the Scriptures, there is some hesitation in many, the word no comes from others. I think of Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah… and that is just the tip of the Scriptural iceberg!
Mary is clear – yes. She says yes to God when told she will bear the Christ child, she then says yes to make this journey to her cousin.
What I am also forced to consider is my own hesitation in life and often my own “no!” Mary is a model for immediacy, and Elizabeth is too. It is always about God first and then our response. That’s why we can’t make ourselves holy or “get saved.” Jesus has already done this and we simply need to open our heart to the yes, with hesitation or not, we must say yes. Mary and Elizabeth. They both respond like that. Uncomplicated. Clear. Direct. God-focused, God-centered.
Their cooperation with grace requires courage, humility, inner authority, intuition, deep faith. Very remarkable, very beautiful.
So on this day, let us remember the speed and clarity that Mary and Elizabeth have in responding to God. And let us all remember that it is about responding, not doing it ourselves.
How do we respond to God? How do we respond to one another?
As you ponder that question, allow me to add this. I am always heartened to remember that the public recitation of the Magnificat was against the law in Guatemala in the 1980s. These words that I leave you with are from author Kathleen Norris‘s book, Amazing Grace:
Mary utters a song so powerful that its meaning still resonates in profound and disturbing ways. In the twentieth century Mary’s “Magnificat” became a cornerstone of liberation theology, so much so that during the 1980’s the government of Guatemala found its message so subversive that it banned its recitation in public worship.
The Magnificat reminds us that what we most value, all that gives us status – power, pride, strength and wealth – can be a barrier to receiving what God has in store for us. If we have it all, or think we can buy it all, there will be no Christmas for us. If we are full of ourselves, there will be no room for God to enter our hearts at Christmas. Mary’s prayer of praise, like many of the psalms, calls us to consider our true condition: God is God, and we are the creatures God formed out of earth. The nations are but nations, and even the power of a mighty army cannot save us. We all return to dust. And if we hope to rise in God’s new creation, where love and justice will reign triumphant, our responsibility, here and now, is to reject the temptation to employ power and force and oppression against those weaker than ourselves. We honour the Incarnation best by honouring God’s image in all people, and seeking to make this world into a place of welcome for the Prince of Peace.” (p. 113-114 in “God With Us”).