And Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda. [Lk. 1:39]
The Visitation, the second Joyful mystery of the Rosary: Mary travels through the hill country to see her cousin Elizabeth. Both expecting babies, Mary bears Christ in her womb, and Elizabeth bears St. John the Baptist, who leaps in his mother’s womb when Mary comes close, for he knew that Christ was in his midst.
How joyful Mary must have been to see her cousin at this time, when they were both with child! I don’t know about you, but there’s a special thrill when I have a friend who is pregnant at the same time as me. Often it’s “Hi, baby!” with smiles… asking how the other is feeling. We exchange notes on our baby’s movements, their growth and position. Then of course we sometimes talk about what we’re craving, or what our struggles have been: our sensitivities, our physical difficulties. It thrills me to think of Mary at such a young age leaving her own home to visit her elder cousin… looking up to her, wanting to help her in her older age, but sharing in the same exact joy, that of life within the womb.
“But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby leapt for joy.” (Lk 1:43-44).
We too have had foretastes of that joy! Whether our conversations with our fellow mother-friends are full of deep and profound thoughts or simply about the surface-stuff, there is still a connection from woman to woman. We women have a special bond when we’re both participating in this miracle of bearing a new life, of carrying a new baby within our wombs. I don’t know whether the mystery of the Visitation brings me so much joy because I have always loved greeting my mama-friends, bringing baskets or pots of soup to households after a baby is born, being on the receiving end of such generosity after surgery and birth… or if it’s the reverse! Perhaps the fact that I have long-loved this mystery of the Rosary is WHY I so love the companionship and intimacy with my mother-friends. Perhaps this tremendously joyful mystery became part of the formation of my woman-heart.
In this mystery there is the wonderful St. Elizabeth, who is Mary’s cousin and mother of St. John the Baptist, to think about, to pray to. The long-standing Catholic tradition of praying to our patron saints is a beautiful one. My middle name being Eliza, around age fifteen I started to pray to her, because I loved the connection between our names. And I loved the mystery of Christ coming into her presence and the joy that stemmed from that meeting. It wasn’t until I became a mother that I found out that St. Elizabeth is one of the patron saints of expectant mothers. And then my connection to her in meditation was even more joyful. She got to meet the mother of our Lord! She watched her son and Christ grow up together as cousins! Imagine that! And St. John the Baptist himself, that infant in Elizabeth’s womb, was the greatest of the Prophets, the one who would proclaim Jesus at the beginning of his public life. At the words of Our Lady’s greeting, Elizabeth’s proclaiming of Mary—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. John the Baptist was cleansed from original sin in the womb of his mother, just as Mary was.
The Visitation is one of the three mysteries of the Holy Spirit’s work: a stage along the way of the Holy Spirit’s creative passage through human history. The first being the Annunciation, the second the Visitation, and the third, the Nativity. In the Visitation, Mary is moved by the Holy Spirit to travel to her cousin.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Mystery of the Visitation– that of bringing Christ into the world, just as Mary brought Christ to her cousin–Blessed Pope John Paul II could say in no better words:
“Like Mary, you must not be afraid to allow the Holy Spirit to help you become intimate friends of Christ. Like Mary, you must put aside any fear, in order to take Christ to the world in whatever you do—in marriage, as single people in the world, as students, as workers, as professional people. Christ wants to go to many places in the world, and to enter many hearts, through you. Just as Mary visited Elizabeth, so you too are called to “visit” the needs of the poor, the hungry, the homeless, those who are alone or ill… You are called to stand up for life!”
This passage is food for all mothers and non-mothers alike! To bring Christ into the world is what we can all do in every vocation.
Also in this mystery Mary utters the words of the beautiful hymn of gratitude and praise, the Magnificat: “My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my savior… God who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name”. This calls us on to an important spirit of joy, fear of God, and the heart-tingling image of Mary being the Christ-bearer.
Mary went to serve while she was pregnant! How often do we, in our culture, put out feet up and let the house, the other kids, and all extra charities totally go to pot as we sit around watching movies all day and eating saltines? Don’t get me wrong; tough times of exhaustion and nausea are crosses, and it’s entirely understandable, and necessary in some situations, for us to need more rest. But in our culture, pregnant women tend to be treated as victims who need to be pampered and pitied. While there is something definitely to be said about the extra care or understanding a pregnant woman needs (especially in that awful first trimester), we certainly don’t need to kick up our feet and quit all charitable duties. (And goodness–how much do we really get to sit around anyway with all these children and our work and running a household??) It is consoling that, after all, Mary went to serve. This can give us great courage when we’re pregnant.
In dwelling on this mystery we can also contemplate how it affects our relationships with our fellow mother-friends. Christ was the joyful center of their meeting; so too is He the center of our meetings with one another! He is the root of our joy. Bringing His love to all we meet, we rejoice in Him who is in our midst. We try to keep Him at the center of our hearts, intentions, actions. Everything we do is for Him. We greet each other not for our glory or our pride, but for Him. We bring a meal to Sally and her new baby not just because she’s our friend but because she is our fellow pilgrim-friend who needs Christ at her side right now. And we can be that Christ. We women have a special intimate bond, because we are partaking in His gift of creation; we are bearing God’s children. We are bearing pieces of His love. And His love is triumphantly on view when we greet each other with our maternal smiles of radiance, put together care-packages, give advice, assist at births, pray for each other in sickness, suffering and in grief, rejoice in a new life, in pouring out our women hearts to each other. “To Jesus, through Mary!” is a headliner in our faith as Catholics. He came to us through a woman. And she always points to Him! So let’s carry Him everywhere we go, being bearers of His light, His joy, His life.
-Sia wrote the first part of this in her pajamas one night, then finished it two months later…
If Christ is growing in us, if we are at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it He is forming Himself; if we go with eager wills, “in haste,” to wherever our circumstances compel us, because we believe that He desires to be in that place, we shall find that we are driven more and more to act on the impulse of His love.
And the answer we shall get from others to those impulses will be an awakening into life, or the leap into joy of the already wakened life within them.
-Excerpt from The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander