Praying with Mary and Elizabeth

Today is the Feast of the Visitation, recounting the episode in Luke’s Gospel in which Mary, who’s just been told by the angel Gabriel she will give birth to Jesus, goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.

In Luke 1, starting at the 39th verse, we’re told: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’”

The responses of Elizabeth and her yet-unborn son, John the Baptist, instruct us how we are to greet Christ’s presence in our lives: joyously, as God’s blessed children.

Mary, in turn, glorifies God with her humility and willingness to serve in the beginning of her Magnificat, or Hymn of Praise: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

These initial exchanges at the Visitation are important, and instructive. But, we mustn’t lose sight of what comes next, in the heart of the Magnificat.

In this beautiful hymn, in Luke 1:46-55, Mary gives us a vision of Jesus, of God, and the Kingdom he calls us to build: “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary calls us to her son, our Savior, who relieves the suffering and scatters the proud; who lifts up the lowly and brings down the powerful and conceited; who feeds the hungry, not the rich; who remembers us all, and seeks us ceaselessly, in his grace. Mary calls us to her unborn son, who she already knows, who will turn the world upside down in favor of a radical, self-sacrificial love — a love that builds the foundation of God’s Kingdom on a bloody cross.

The Magnificat calls us to set aside greed and fear, and to open our hearts that we may be used to build a Kingdom founded on selfless, courageous love. I pray today to walk with Mary, and to better prepare and open my heart to follow her son, to have the strength and courage to take up whatever cross I’m blessed with, and to follow him.

Using the Revised Common Lectionary for today, let us pray: Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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