Visitation of the BVM 2016 – A pious word

[1] There is no earthly reason for Mary to make this journey to her cousin Elizabeth. Written in a supernatural and theological key, what matters in this tale is that we should see, even now, the relationship between the Lord’s Forerunner (than whom, we are later told, ‘none greater is born of woman’[2]) and the Lord himself, God’s Word of divine instruction and human definition. He is enclosed in his mother’s womb just as the Tablets of the Law were enclosed in the Ark of the Covenant. Before them, King David danced[3] with the same vigour and purpose as that of the unborn Baptist who now leaps rejoicing before his unborn monarch.

There is in this parallel further food for reflection, as the revealing garment worn by the prancing David is the priestly ephod, as worn by Samuel at Shiloh[4] and reflected in the ‘towel’ worn by Jesus for the washing of his disciples’ feet[5]. Having laid down his garments, he will, next day, lay down his life. But for him, ascending the altar of his cross, there is none of that protection from vulnerability which the priests of old enjoyed: they avoided the building of steps around their altars[6] so that their nakedness might not be exposed. But this Christ, whom Elizabeth acclaims with a heavily-freighted ‘Lord’ is also slave and priest and sacrifice, and if we would join the Baptist in his leap of faith, we must expect some marks of suffering to colour and shade our lives, just as the sword pierces Mary’s soul[7] and as John the Baptist pays the price for being a tireless servant of the truth.[8]

But we do not fear: a life laid down in imitation of the Lord is never a life wasted; he is the way of salvation, as Mary’s joyful Magnificat makes plain[9]. Her feet have made their beautiful way upon the mountains[10] so that God’s Good News might be proclaimed, heard and acknowledged: she rejoices that God’s nature is to raise the lowly, feed the hungry, make fruitful the childless, and summarily dismiss the self-satisfied and overfilled.

And these do not remain a set of merely general characteristics: they filter down and take root in the lives of humble men and women like her, those who know their need of God, and whose quiet and attentive hearts are fertile soil for the Spirit’s work. All these things we celebrate today as in her long march to celebrate our freedom, Mary illustrates what great things the Lord can do in those who offer God their co-operation. The infant John likewise shows us the way of following, and the nature of the one we follow. All that remains for us is to make Mary’s song our own, and to crown it with the loud Amen of our hearts’ and lives’ consent.

[1] Luke 1.39-56

[2] Luke 7.28

[3] 2 Samuel 6.16

[4] 1 Samuel 2.18

[5] John 13.4

[6] Exodus 20.26

[7] Luke 2.35

[8] Mark 6.14-29

[9] Luke 1.46-55; cf I Samuel 2.1-10

[10] cf Isaiah 52.7

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