December 21, 2010

The Visitation and Charity

Today's gospel--St. Luke's account of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and the in utero encounter of Jesus and John--sometimes brings back for me one of my earliest catholic sense-memories. It was right around the time when I decided that my search for a spiritual home was coming to a conclusion; I would become a catechumen and seek baptism in the Catholic Church. It was, perhaps, around this same time of year in 1991.

Now that I was going to be a Catholic, I wanted to do Catholic stuff. One thing I was especially interested to learn about was the rosary. It seemed eminently Catholic. So I went to the local religious article shop and bought a cheap rosary and a little pamphlet that taught you how to use it. I didn't know that one usually gets a rosary blessed, so I just went ahead and used it. I have such a visual memory of the pamphlet. On one side was the text of the prayers and an explanation of the order in which they were to be said, and on the other was a chart of the mysteries. It's was a tri-fold sort of pamphlet, and had three columns for the three sets of mysteries. (This was before the Luminous Mysteries.) For each of the mysteries there was a little picture of the corresponding scene, and underneath something called 'the fruit of the mystery,' which was usually one of the virtues.

I was a little perplexed by the 'fruit of the mystery' business. For the Visitation the 'fruit' was charity. Was an increase in charity my prize for meditating on the mystery, or contemplating the little picture while I said the decade? Did particular meditations nurture certain virtues? In many cases I could see the obvious connections between the mysteries and the virtues that were called their fruits, but in the case of the Visitation I didn't really see it. Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Jesus and John had their first meeting, and it was all very beautiful and mysterious, but I didn't see how Mary's visit had something to do with charity.

Over the years of meditating on this mystery in the Joyful Mysteries and also in the Franciscan Crown, I've come to imagine that the charity comes out most clearly for me when I meditate on the Visitation from the other direction. It is the visit of Mary and Jesus, for sure, but the real charity is Elizabeth's. It is she who gives her care and her home to her young relative, assisting and supporting her in her pregnancy for those three months. And I think that each of us is called to a spiritual imitation of Elizabeth's charity.

We recall often enough the Marian spirituality of the Church and of her individual members; what Mary did historically, each of us--and the Church as a whole--is called to do spiritually: we are to hear the Word of God announced to us, give it a home in our hearts and lives, nurture it, and give it birth into the world. But we are also called to fulfill the charity of Elizabeth for the sake of one another's Marian vocation, to support and care for one another in our task of gestating and bearing the Word of God who is Christ incarnate.

Each Christian is called to the motherhood of Mary, to be a conceiver, nurturer, and bearer of the presence of Christ to the world. Each of us is also called to the charity of Elizabeth, to support and care for each other through all the dangers, fears, and unknowns of this vocation. With Elizabeth, when encountering another Christian, we say with wonder, "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was beautiful. I, too, had trouble with the fruit of the Visitation mystery, but you have shown me how to look at it from a different angle. Once again, in her humility, Mary is pointing us in another direction, away from herself, to contemplate, in this case, Elizabeth.

Jeanne said...

A very lovely post indeed! And I still need my little trifold cheat sheet to remember the mysteries...

doughboy said...

Wow you're good. I've been praying the rosary since childhood, and never have I considered charity from Elizabeth's perspective.

Anonymous said...

Beg to differ, Father. One of the fruits of bearing the Son of God is charity. Our Lady could very well stay home, silently rejoicing over the marvel of bearing the Christ Child in her womb, that would be quite conformable with her disposition. Instead, she was overwhelmed with thankfulness and awe, prompting her to go beyond her own interest, and to inconvenient herself by going through the wilderness to help another who was in need of help. This would coincide with the exclamation of Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy Spirit whilst John was cleansed of Original Sin upon the greeting, that she was much humbled by the visitation of Our Lady and Our Lord. Don't you think?

Brother Charles said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for the reflection!

lever_du_soleil said...

Merry Christmas, Father.