May 31

The Visitation

What is true celebration? The scene of the Visitation gives us a clear picture of celebration. The young Mary visited the elderly Elizabeth. Both were with child. This was a good reason to celebrate, because of the joy motherhood would bring. But there was a greater reason. God blessed these women, and they were humbled by that blessing. It was not Mary who honored the older Elizabeth and marveled at the miracle of her pregnancy. No, it was older who honored the younger and was in awe at the work of God in their midst.

First Reading A: Zephaniah 3:14-18

14 Sing, daughter of Zion! Shout, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem. 15 YHWH has taken away your judgments. He has thrown out your enemy. The King of Israel, YHWH, is in the midst of you. You will not be afraid of evil any more. 16 In that day, it will be said to Jerusalem, "Don't be afraid, Zion. Don't let your hands be weak." 17 YHWH, your God, is in the midst of you, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with joy. He will calm you in his love. He will rejoice over you with singing. 18 I will remove those who grieve about the appointed feasts from you. They are a burden and a reproach to you.

World English Bible

There is nothing more joyful as forgiveness. All the great moments in life, birth, sacramental moments, life's transitions, marriage, and death, have the potential to bring people together. When people are brought together in forgiveness, there is relief and peace. These are the cause for joy.

Beginning the passage of joy, Zephaniah symbolizes Jerusalem as a young girl who should be at a party. [14] Why should there be rejoicing? The danger has passed, the enemies are gone, and God is in their midst. [15, 17] And not only does the city have cause for rejoicing; the prophet loudly proclaims God's joy over the return of his people. [17-18] God and the people are together; they are reconciled. There is true joy.

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First Reading B: Romans 12:9-16

9 Love (in an) unfeigned (way): abhorring evil, united to the good, 10 loving each other in a brotherly affection, guiding each other by means of honor, 11 not (being) hesitant in zeal, (being) inflamed by the Spirit, serving the LORD, 12 rejoicing in hope, enduring through tribulation, 13 sharing (one's goods) in the needs of the saints, pursuing hospitality with strangers. 14 Bless (those) persecuting [you]; bless (them) and do not curse (them). 15 Rejoice with (those) rejoicing; weep with (those) weeping. 16 Treat each other the same, not holding (yourself) in high (esteem) but guiding (yourself) toward the humble. Do not consider yourself (above others).

What does it mean to love in a genuine way? In a small section of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul exhorts the audience to consider the question. 12:39-13 is one long sentence that described ways to show sincere love in the community. Reject evil, love each other with one mind and one heart, honor others above the self, live a life of hope despite troubles, focus your concern with those less fortunate and with the stranger. 12:16 summed up much of the ways to a harmonious life in community: humility. Live with the humble, so one can practice humility. Share the joys and pains of others; this is a sure way to humility (12:15). But best way to become humble is a prayer of blessing upon one's enemies (12:14).

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Gospel:  Luke 1:39-56

39 Having stood up, Mary, in these days, traveled with haste into the hill country, into a city of Judah, 40 entered the house of Zechariah, and greeted Elizabeth. 41 It happened (that), as Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe in her womb (suddenly and vigorously) stirred. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she shouted a great cry and said, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 From where (was) this (encounter) to me that the mother of my Lord might come to me? 44 Look! For, as the sound of your greeting happened in my ears, the babe in my womb (suddenly and vigorously) stirred in exaltation. 45 Happy is the one having trusted that there will be fulfillment to the (words) having been spoken to her from the Lord."

1:39 "having stood up" The verb "stand up" in Greek was used as a code word for resurrection. As it was used in this participle, the verb indicated the beginning of a motion. In other words, Mary stood up with the intention to travel. In the context (after the Annunciation), however, it was the Spirit who "raised Mary up" and sent her on her way. Like many other references in the Gospel, the act of faith changed the person (spiritual "resurrection") and sent them on a journey (a mission).

1:41 Mary's greeting catalyzed two simultaneous events: the stirring of John and the indwelling of the Spirit. In other words, Mary (under the influence of the Spirit) greeted Elizabeth. The Spirit entered Elizabeth and her babe (John) for the purpose of prophecy. John would prophesy for the Messiah; his mother would speak in a way to foreshadow that prophesy. As Elizabeth acknowledged Mary as the mother of the Messiah, so the elderly mother's son would point to the girl's son as Lord.

1:42 "Blessed . . . blessed" is literally "well spoken of." The person pronouncing the blessing was God, not Elizabeth. Her shout of greeting was prophetic. It revealed the stature of Mary and her son. It was not a prayer of blessing upon Mary.

1:43 "From where (was) this (encounter) to me" is loosely "why have I been honored..." In a society that measured honor by age, the reversal (the older was honored by the younger) could only come from God. (The technique turning social norms upside-down was typical of Luke.)

1:45 "Happy" is sometimes translated "blessed." Unlike the prophecy of 1:42, this sentence is phrased in the same way as a Beatitude. In other words, Elizabeth stated the source of Mary's happiness was her faith.

In his Infancy narrative, Luke turned tradition upside down when he portrayed the matriarch of Zechariah's clan honor the younger relative, Mary. This turn of events was based upon the movement of the Spirit and the status of the mothers' children. The elderly Elizabeth had the prophet of the Messiah in her womb, while the younger Mary was pregnant with the Christ himself.

Luke painted the scene of greeting as an opportunity for prophecy by Elizabeth, who declared the blessing of Mary. Mary was blessed because of her maternity and God's favor. She derived her status because her faith and because of the importance of her son. (In a male dominated, gender segregated society, women derived their status based upon the social and economic importance of males in their lives: fathers, husbands, and sons.)

Mary would respond to Elizabeth's blessing with a prayer of praise for her new status.

46 Mary said:

My soul makes the Lord great,
47 and my spirit is glad in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked upon the lowly state of his servant.
For, Look! from now on all generations will call me happy,
49 that the Powerful (One) has done great (things) for me, 'Holy' is his name,
50 and his compassion (is) on generation and (following) generation,
to the (ones) fearing him.
51 He did a mighty deed with his arm,
he scattered the arrogant in the ways of thinking for their hearts.
52 He torn powerful (men) down from (their) thrones,
and elevated the lowly in station;
53 (those) hungering he satisfied with good (things),
and (those) being rich he sent away hungry.
54 He grasped (to help) Israel, his (chosen) boy servant,
to remember his (past) mercy,
55 just as he told our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed, unto the (eternal) age."

56 Mary stayed with her for three months, and she returned to her house.

1:46-47 "soul makes...great...spirit is glad" Some biblical scholars make a distinction between soul and spirit. The soul was seen as the seat of one's inner life (which felt emotion); the spirit was seen as the God-given spark of life that insured the soul's survival. But, in practical terms, the two phrases expressed the same idea: Mary was overjoyed by God's blessing. So, this introduction contained a poetic redundancy.

1:49 "Powerful One...'Holy'" Both titles for God refer to the same idea, God is totally Other, the Transcendent One. This was another case of poetic redundancy.

1:51 "he scattered the arrogant in the ways of thinking for their hearts" This confusing phrase can more easily understood as: "God scattered the arrogant because of the way their hearts understand." The context of the next two verses make this phrase clear: God would turn the world of the arrogant upside down. The rulers would become the ruled. The rich would become the new poor. Future circumstances would change the way these people would feel about themselves and their world.

1:56 "house" was the same as "family."

Mary began the Magnificat with a song of joy. God had decided to use a lowly handmaiden to fulfill his will. His activity in Mary's life was a reason for praise and was seen as an act of divine power. This line of reasoning paralleled Luke''s view of the crucifixion. Jesus died a shameful death in the eyes of his contemporaries, yet, in the eyes of the faithful, his lowly death was a mighty act of God. After all, just as the pain of childbirth gives way to the joy of new life, so the death pangs of Jesus gave way to the glory of the resurrection. The pregnancy of Mary was the first step in God's immediate plan for salivation.

What would that pregnancy mean to Israel? Mary's song listed two results: a sign of the faithfulness to the people and justice. God would change (even invert) the world order. The rich and powerful would be humbled. And the poor would be exalted. How? Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His life would mark the beginning of the end time, when divine justice would reign and God would bless even the forgotten among the people. In the end, God would keep his promises.

So, Mary had reason for joy. Her status was not based upon local opinion, but upon her place in God's plan. She was the first to accept the Good News at the Annunciation. Now she was an instrument of God's will and power. For that reason, her reputation would spread from generation to generation. She would be the mother of the Savior. And, the Mother of God!

The feast of the Visitation is a reason for joyful celebration. God blessed even in the lowest of society and his blessing would bring life to everyone, high or low, who believed. That thought humble us and focus our hearts on his love, a love that spills out to others.

It also gives us one more reason to glorify the Father.

How has God's blessings humbled you? How do you give God glory for his blessings?