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Reflection for the Feast of the Visitation May 31, 2017

Rose Mary Sullivan, CND

There are two basic beliefs that inform my reflection on the Visitation. The first is: I have come to know and appreciate that the Feast of the Visitation is more than a celebration of arrival. Rather it holds up for our consideration the ongoing conversations between Mary and Elizabeth, which took place in the three months that followed Mary’s arrival.  And, I imagine one of the conversations between Mary and Elizabeth could have gone like this:

After Mary had settled in, Elizabeth took her on a short walk to Elizabeth’s favorite quiet place to sit for a while and to talk. Elizabeth had noted Mary’s reaction to her greeting, had heard Mary’s unspoken questions, had sensed Mary’s need for assurances from her older cousin.

As they sat together in that place which so often had been Elizabeth’s refuge, Mary took in the view of the semi-desert country below them. Elizabeth was not surprised by Mary’s almost awed silence because this place had that effect on her too. After some time, Elizabeth tentatively began in a low, almost reverent voice. “Ah Mary, little cousin and so much more, as soon as I saw you I realized my own act of faith had been confirmed. I no longer believed, I knew my child was from God.

When Zachary came back from Temple Duty with this strange illness, I thought we were being punished once again. I felt God had punished us enough – no child, not even a false hope of a child. My barrenness was like a public penance. For years I had prayed to God to remove this stigma from us. My prayer had not been answered. Often, I would come here to pour out my heart to God. Surely this land and I had been God-forsaken. How often I raged at Yahweh!

Many women in the village pitied me; some even looked down on me. Nothing I said, nothing I did mattered. We remained childless.

Then the time came when I was beyond hope of having a child. Mary, in some ways, that almost brought relief – almost.  Zachary tried his best to comfort me saying it made no difference. I heard his tender words, but I also saw the disappointment in his eyes. For months, I came here. I went from frustration and resentment to that kind of temporary relief. Soon however, I felt so abandoned and even numb that I used silence and isolation as a kind of fortress.

Zachary almost didn’t go to the temple this last time; I had to convince him to go. When he came home unable to speak, I had to put aside my own concerns. He seemed agitated, and yet there was something about him that went beyond that. We began to come here together. It was odd, Mary, he couldn’t speak and I didn’t.

Gestures became so important to us. We didn’t need words to say what we wanted to. In the midst of so much silence, we found each other again. It was as though our spirits called out to one another – heart to heart – soul to soul. I can’t explain it, I only know it happened.

Mary, it was precisely when we both finally yielded to the reality of our barrenness, that I became pregnant! I had often planned just how I would tell others I was pregnant. Then when it happened, I was reluctant to do so. I carried the knowledge of God’s graciousness – as I carried the secret of my child – close to my heart. I had thought that pregnancy would make me proud. It didn’t. All I felt was wonder.

Mary, I see that in your eyes too. It has done me such good to talk to you today. I had such a desire to share all of this. I’m old, Mary, some would say far too old to have this child. Yet I feel younger than I have ever felt. So I still come here to let the land continue to speak to me. At times, after even the smallest rain, it becomes a place of unbelievable color and life. Those are the times that the land and I sing together- Look! This is a time for surprise life.”

As for my second belief in relation to the Visitation – I have come to appreciate that there is no time with God. So the Elizabeth who greeted and welcomed Mary was at one and the same time

the Barren woman,

the fruitful woman and

the mother of the executed prophet –

Just as the Mary who travelled in haste to the house of Elizabeth was the young girl who said yes to God, and would become –

the young mother who had to flee into Egypt in response to Joseph’s dream

the frantic mother who searched for three days for her Son,

the sad mother who said yes to her son’s decision leave his home to begin his mission

the fearful mother who wanted to convince him to come back home

the sorrowful mother who stood beside her dear son on the cross.

It is this Mary I believe can speak to us today – It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that when Good Friday began, Mary felt that God would intervene – that this day would not end in death. And when the terrible reality loomed before her, this daughter of Abraham cried out in anguish – “Is there no ram for my son?”

There are many challenges to our faith and trust in God right now Yeses seem hard to come by.  There are many times when, like Mary, we pray for a ram and then struggle to grow into a Yes to God’s will when there is no ram.

Perhaps this celebration of Visitation calls us to remember and to celebrate all of the “surprise life” moments we have experienced so far and to pray to be open to all those to come.                   

It might also be the time to express our profound gratitude for the times in our lives that we had to “Grow into a Yes” - and to ask for trust and courage when we are faced with them in our future. Let each of us here together with Elizabeth and Mary declare, “My loving God is my light and salvation, whom need I fear?”

 

 

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