Let me recall a concrete event of history.
The Second World War was at its height. A group of USA soldiers were camping in Japan. Most of them were Christians. The 1944 Christmas was just coming. Some soldiers expressed their desire to have the celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Christmas Day. Someone said that there is a priest among the people taken as prisoners. The Captain sent for the priest and told him that the soldiers wanted a Holy Mass on Christmas Day. The priest joyfully accepted the request.
During the Christmas Day Mass the priest preached on Child Jesus as Prince of peace and his Mother Mary and her joyful “Magnificat”. The priest explained the ideas contained in Mother Mary’s song of praise. And the Japanese priest prayed that, May the all powerful God bless both the Americans and the Japanese with love, peace and joy, which Baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace, brings. And they really became peace-loving friends! This is the power of Mother Mary’s song at her Visitation to her relative Elizabeth.
We are going to visualize and meditate on Mother Mary’s Visitation and her joyful Magnificat. The theme or the topic of this Novena Mass is “Mother Mary, the Missionary of Joy”.
All, at least most Catholics, daily say a universal prayer: The Rosary. Twice a week on Monday and Saturday we say the joyous mysteries. In the second joyful mystery we meditate on Mary’s Visitation to her close relative Elizabeth. Today we are going to prayerful reflection Mary’s Visitation.
Only Evangelist St Luke gives us the Biblical account of Mary’s Visitation to her relative Elizabeth. We have the beautiful biblical text in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel from verse 39 to verse 56 including Mary’s wonderful hymn known in Latin “Magnificat” –that is, Mary’s joyful song of praise.
The Visitation takes place immediately after the Annunciation, that is, God’s message to Virgin Mary that she is chosen to be the Mother of Jesus, Most High God’s own Son without a human father. It is a very mysterious announcement! But after seeking and getting clarification Mary said her “Fiat”- her “yes” to God’s wondrous plan.
With the Annunciation Mary also got the news that her relative Elizabeth has conceived and that she is in her sixth month of pregnancy! We do not know if Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin, aunt or any other relative. But the subsequent events show that Elizabeth was a very close relative of Mary. That is why as soon as Mary gets the joyful news that her kins woman Elizabeth is in the sixth month with pregnancy, Mary hurries off from Nazareth to a city in hill country of Judea.
I made two pilgrimages (1st in Oct 1977after my studies in Gregorian Univ. Rome & 2nd after in Sept 1988 after an International Press Meeting at Paris) to the Holy Land of Palestine, that is, today’s Israel. Then, I have traveled between the two places of Nazareth and Ein Karim. Luke does not name the town or city to which Mary went. But biblical scholars have identified the Judean town to be Ein Karim as the home of Zachariah and Elizabeth. It is situated 5 km south of the Holy City Jerusalem.
That means, Mary traveled a distance of about 150 kms between Nazareth and Ein Karim! In those days people traveled either by foot or on the back of a donkey. Remember “WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR” story; that is, the parable of the Good Samaritan. We read it only in the Chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37).
In those days with halts at wayside villages for night rest, an adult person may take about 6 days to cover the distance of 150 kms. We can imagine Mary accompanied by one or two of her relatives/ neighbours traveling on foot. The route is familiar because the Jews traveled at least once a year to the Holy City of Jerusalem. But the last 5 km route from Jerusalem to Ein Karim may or may not be familiar for travelers of that time.
While Mary and her companions hurrying to cover the 150 km distance, we can pause and ask a question: why did Mary undertook the arduous journey? What is the purpose of the meeting with her relative Elizabeth?
According to the biblical scholar William Barclay, Mary may have several reasons or purposes in meeting her relative Elizabeth. We can presume at least 4 reasons for Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. First, Mary wants to share her great joy with her close relative Elizabeth. The Angel Gabriel has told her that Mary is most favored woman, most blessed woman, among all women in the world; and that she is to conceive and bear the Son of the Most High God!
This is indeed great news of tremendous joy! She cannot contain the great joy but she wants to share it with someone who will understand her. Who is a better person than her close relative Elizabeth! God has blessed Elizabeth too with the conception of a child in her old age! So Mary hurries to meet Elizabeth and share her joy.
Second, Mary may have wanted to confirm the unbelievable news of her own conception without a human father together with confirming the news of a barren woman – her relative Elizabeth – conceiving in her old age, now in the six months of her pregnancy! Both Mary’s conception and Elizabeth’s pregnancy are tremendous privileges to them, blessedness of great joy. They can be confirmed in the personal presence of each other! Their conversation and their joyful songs of praise reveal and confirm their unique privileges and their blessedness.
Third, William Barclay says, “Mary may be intimately attached to Elizabeth”. After telling Mary that God is gracious to her and that she is to bear Jesus, the Son of God, the Angel Gabriel tells her also that her relative Elisabeth is six-month pregnant. Mary knew that Elizabeth is childless woman and cannot conceive as she is very old. So Angel Gabriel assures Mary that, “There is nothing that God cannot do”. Mary believed in the message of the Angel and has said her “Fiat”, her “Yes” to God. Now Mary wants to share the joyful news with her close relative Elizabeth.
Fourth, Mary undertakes the strenuous journey to seek the understanding support of her relative Elizabeth. Mary’s heart is wondering with tremendous joy that she is chosen to be the Mother of the Son of the Most High God! A thing that no one thought of is happening in her life. The news of Virgin Mary’s conception without a human father may be unthinkable for people. But surely Elizabeth will understand her as her relative herself is experiencing unbelievable intervention of God in her life.
Now Mary has reached her relative Elizabeth and Zacharias’ house. The close relatives recognize the voice of each other. Their voice is enough to bring them great mutual joy. But apart from the voice the meeting each other has much significance! What are they?
In meeting personally Elizabeth and greeting each other Mary and Elizabeth are sharing their great joy. Both of them know that they are uniquely privileged persons in God’s sight. Both of them are subjects of God’s special intervention in their personal life. Mary is specially chosen to be the Mother of Jesus, God’s own Son! Similarly Elizabeth is singularly privileged to be to conceive a son in her old age after being barren all her life!
When we have something of great joy like achieving a much sought-after goal, we cannot contain ourselves but we want to share the news with our close relatives and friends. In visitation Mary is sharing her great joy with her relative Elizabeth and Mary is also partaking in the untold joy of Elizabeth in conceiving first time a child in her old age! We see that in the mutual sharing their joys they are singing with grateful hearts the praises of Almighty God.
St Luke describes very picturesquely the scene of the mutual greetings of Mary and Elizabeth! We can easily visualize the scene in an old village background! We can read the passage as narrated by St Luke: “She (Mary) went into Zacharias’ house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greetings, the baby moved in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with Holy Spirit. ….” (Lk 1: 40-45).
This narration clearly shows that they are two mothers and the two mothers are meeting and greeting each other. This shows that the two Conceptions are closely linked. The two sons in their mothers’ womb encounter each other! Elizabeth acknowledges that in her womb: “The baby moved within her”.
This shows that the Visitation of Mary to her relative Elizabeth, first of all, affects John in the womb of Elizabeth. Mary’s visitation has transforming effect on John because John in her mother’s womb encounters Jesus in his mother Mary’s womb! Mary is filled with the Holy Spirit and now with the Visitation Elizabeth too gets filled with the Holy Spirit. So Elizabeth is transformed to recognize in Mary not only as her relative but also as the Mother of God! And so she exclaims: “You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the Child you will bear! Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s Mother comes to visit me?”
Elizabeth recognizes Mary as the most blessed of all women! She recognizes Mary as the mother of her Lord. She recognizes that she herself has the rarest privilege of being visited by the Mother of her Lord, by the Lord himself in his Mother’s womb!
Perhaps in the Visitation of Mother Mary, what interests us most is her joyful “Magnifcat” – her song of praise! Biblical scholar William Barclay calls it “A wondrous hymn”. We have heard it as the Gospel passage proclaimed from this pulpit. We have heard it or read it often as the great hymn of the Church. It is usually sung during the Mass of the Visitation.
The content of the “Magnificat” is steeped in the Old Testament. The “Magnificat” closely linked with Hannah’s song of praise in the first book of Samuel (1 Samuel 2: 1-10). We know that Hannah sang her “Magnificat” after being childless in her life and consequently suffering much. In her distress she promised the Lord that if the Almighty gives her a son, she would dedicate her son to the Lord for all the days of his life. True to her promise Hannah dedicated her son as soon as the child is weaned and then sang her “Magnificat”.
Hannah’s “Magnificat” may be described as a victory song. It is a victory of the oppressed people proclaiming joy and hope in Yahweh. Yahweh will perform saving acts bringing unheard of victory to the marginalized people.
The opening verse of Mother Mary’s “Magnificat” may also remind us prophet Habakkuk’s canticle. Prophet Habakkuk says, “I will still be joyful and glad, because the Lord God is my Saviour” (Hab 3: 18). Similar expressions of joy are also found in some Psalms.
Mother Mary’s Visitation and her “Magnificat” go much further.
First of all, “Magnificat” is a song of gratitude. Mary is grateful to the Almighty for the all the things God has done for her and for humanity.
Second, Mary’s gratitude leads her to burst out in a song of praising God for all the things in her life.
Third, expressing gratitude and praising God, Mary cherishes all the blessings of God for her and for the entire humanity.
William Barclay describes Mary’s “Magnificat” “as the most revolutionary document in the world.” It speaks of three kind of revolution of God.
First, Mary’s “Magnificat” is a moral revolution;
Second, Mary’s “Magnificat” is a social revolution; and
Third, Mary’s “Magnificat” is an economic revolution.
First, Mary’s “Magnificat” indicates a moral revolution. Mary sings:
“He has stretched out his mighty arms and scattered the proud with all their plans.”
A moral revolution has begun. Pride has no place in Christianity. We say, “Pride goes before a fall”. We have a telling example in the care of Titanic – the biggest ship ever made till that time of launching of Titanic. On August 12, 1912 Titanic left London harbor for New York. Thousands of admirers, relatives and well wishers of Titanic were on the shore bidding farewell to Titanic.
With 2244 passengers on board the ship, Captain Smith very proudly responded to the people on the share: “No power on earth even God cannot destroy Titanic”. After being two days in the high sea on August 14 Captain Smith got a telegram from California: “A huge iceberg is floating below the surface of the water in the Atlantic Ocean from North Pole. Please take care.
But Captain Smith proud as he was, he did not care! After a little while the iceberg hit Titanic piercing the huge ship. Captain Smith ordered: “Get ready for death”. Women and children boarded the few life boats in the ship and got saved. The rest of the people abroad the ship including Captain Smith went down the ocean grave! The sad even proved what Mary sang: “He has stretched out his mighty arms and scattered the proud with all their plans.”
Second, Mary’s “Magnificat” speaks of a social revolution. Mary sings: “He has brought down the mighty kings from their thrones, and lifted up the lonely” (Lk 1: 52). This is indeed a social revolution. The values of the world is challenged and changed by the coming of Jesus Christ!
Commenting on Mary’s “Magnificat” as a social revolution William Barclay give the example of Muretus – a wandering scholar of the middle age. “He was poor. In an Italian town he became ill and was taken to a hospital for homeless wandering people. The doctors were discussing his case in Latin, never dreaming he could understand. They suggested that since he was such a worthless wonderer they might use him for medical experiments. He looked up and answered them in their own learned tongue, Latin: ‘Call no man worthless for whom Christ died.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 2013, p.19-20)
Third, Mary’s “Magnificat” indicates an economic revolution. Mother Mary sings in her “Magnificat”: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands” (Lk 1: 53). Bridging the gap between the poor and the rich is an economic revolution. Loving and sharing good things with the poor is very much Christ-like, divine activity.
On the other hand selfish activities like hoarding and depriving the poor people what is just is diminishing humanity, in fact, anti-humanity. The Christians with godly values should never amass wealth at the cost of others; but treat wealth as its stewards. Mother Teresa once said, “Give until it hurts you”. That is the spirit of sharing generosity. Mother Mary’s Visitation to her relative Elizabeth and staying and serving her for three months proclaim her dynamic generosity.
In his commentary on St Luke’s Gospel William Barclay says: “There is loveliness in the “Magnificat” but in that loveliness there is dynamite”. Christianity brings about a revolution in individuals and revolution in the world. (A M D G)
Changed On: 16-10-2018
Next Change: 01-11-2018
Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018