When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he brought her news of great joy, that God had chosen her to be the Mother of His Son. As we know, Mary’s fiat, her humble acceptance of this great honor, changed the course of history. Gabriel brought other news as well: that Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, who had been barren, was expecting a child, even though she was seemingly beyond her childbearing years. Mary responded to that news with an open and generous heart.
We can imagine that becoming the Mother of God could lead a person to be self-centered – certainly young Mary’s life was about to change in unimaginable ways. Of course, nothing could be further from the character of our Blessed Mother. Mary was not self-centered; she was focused on doing God’s will. She left her home with haste to visit Elizabeth to assist her in her late pregnancy and birth. This occasion, the Visitation, is celebrated today in the Church.
Mary’s humble gift of service is an important example for our narcissistic society. We are all blessed in many ways, but for many of us, that is cause to celebrate, to indulge, and to think that we are somehow better than others. We don’t always stop to give thanks to God for the peace and security that we enjoy or for our good fortune. We forget that all we have that is good comes from God. His blessings should impel us to service as a tangible way of giving thanks. This is something that Mary understood.
When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s home, the two women shared a mystical experience. Elizabeth had been infused with knowledge of Mary’s pregnancy, and addressed her as “the mother of my Lord.” She said the child within her own womb “leaped for joy.” What a beautiful, life-affirming moment! Mary, for her part, gives glory to God, pouring out her heart in the prayer we know as the Magnificat.
“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…”
The experience of service is an exchange between people. It is not a one-way action. Mary traveled to help Elizabeth, but Elizabeth gave something to Mary also and together they shared their gratitude for God’s blessings upon them. Although we may not have mystical experiences, we can certainly share in the presence of Christ, who is there in our acts of charity and is also present in the poor. Through humble service and reaching out to those in need, we can encounter Christ in a profound way.
The Visitation is a feast that honors our Blessed Mother. It is also an occasion for us to look to her example as a way for us to grow closer to her Son.