Today's feast, the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth as it appears in St. Luke, and the in utero encounter of Jesus and John, 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 around Advent 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 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.
It just shows how shallow my sense of spiritual things was at the time, and why not, since I was just beginning this journey. Grace often shows us only the very next step, and this is enough for someone with faith. It is also a mercy. "I have much more to tell you," says Jesus at the Last Supper, "but you cannot bear it now,"
What the mystery of the Visitation has do with charity is really quite plain. In fact, it is the model of charity par excellence. For charity is nothing else but bringing the presence of Jesus Christ to our neighbor, and this is what Mary does in the most perfect and complete way. Mary receives the Word of God, conceives it in her body, nurtures it, and then brings that presence to Elizabeth and the unborn John, both of whom cannot help but rejoice.
This is 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 in our relationships and in the various settings of our existence.
This spiritual process begins with hearing the Word of God and especially in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. We then nurture this presence within us by prayer and reflection, allowing it to grow. Before long, as we seek this grace in prayer, the Holy Spirit will reveal to us how we can bring this Presence into the various relationships and situations of our lives, giving a spiritual birth to Jesus Christ in the world.
We can also remember how we are called to the charity of Elizabeth. By being an 'Elizabeth' with regard to the Marian vocation of others, we support and rejoice with them as they seek to gestate and bear the Word of God.
May each Christian live the vocation to the motherhood of Mary, of being a conceiver, nurturer, and bearer of the presence of Christ to the world. And may each have also the charity of Elizabeth, to support and care for others through all the dangers, fears, and unknowns of this vocation. With Elizabeth, when encountering another Christian, a bearer of the presence of Christ, let us say with wonder, "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"