The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
If you’re at all like me, you’ll have asked yourself The Question: “What is my purpose? Why am I here? Why was I born?” I suppose that’s the question most often asked of Spiritual Advisors and religious leaders by seekers. Part of our journey seems to be the ever-evolving focus of our vocation. I know that what I wanted when I was 20 was vastly different when I hit 30. And 40. And, well…
In today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, Mary, after hearing the news from the angel that she would give birth to the Messiah, traveled “in haste” from Nazareth to the house of her cousin Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, which was in a village in the hill country of Judea. When Mary arrived, she found her elderly cousin also pregnant.
There are so many moments in this passage which leap out to me as important, lifechanging encounters with God. Let’s look at them briefly. Elizabeth was thought barren, but was now carrying John the Baptist. And Mary, in the midst of a very interesting marital situation, has a heavenly messenger tell her she’s carrying the Son of God. Both of these women were in the middle of truly miraculous pregnancies, having had remarkable and world-changing encounters with God. And then there’s the fact that, in those days, the lengthy and difficult journey for someone entering her (probably) 2nd trimester could have been disastrous. Or that God inspired Mary to go on this journey and be with her family. And what about Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary? “Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does it happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” Mary’s response is equally amazing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” which we now pray as the Magnificat.
Such wonder, richness, and depth.
But there’s something else in this passage… something which hit me like a ton of bricks. It happens just as the mother of the Messiah approaches the mother of the Forerunner – at the very moment Mary’s greeting was heard – John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.
1st Peter 1:8 explains it pretty well…
“Though you have not seen him, you love him;
and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him
and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
It kind of made me chuckle a little bit as I was reminded of that age-old question, “What is my purpose in life?” Even before his birth, John the Baptist was pointing the way to Christ.
And so I found myself reflecting again on my own vocation and how it’s evolved in my 46 years on this planet. What is it that God has been calling me to grow into? I’m a composer and performer, writer and speaker, liturgist and minister, husband and father – a laborer in this small part of God’s vineyard – and what an amazing gift it continues to be for me. And that’s not all… on another level I’m a counselor and confidant, spiritual guide and companion on the journey, meeting people where they are and hoping that, in some small way, I can help them see God’s presence in their own lives, no matter the circumstance.
That’s when the light went off in my head. That’s what Mary did. She brought Christ to Elizabeth and John. She brought Christ to the world. And when I read about her reaction when Elizabeth saw Mary, and how John leapt when recognized Christ within her, it brought me to a heightened understanding of what it might mean to look for God in every person, in every encounter.
All the items I do in life have one thing in common… they all are designed to reveal Christ to the world, and to help lead people into a deeper relationship with God. And that’s not all… in doing that I also am reminded to look for the face of God in everyone I meet and every experience of every day. And, friends, that’s a challenging order to fill. Like it or not, the faces of even the people we don’t care for are the faces of Christ. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, God is there, walking with us. In us. In them…
Today’s Gospel reminds that all of us have a “bottom-line” vocation – that we are all called to be like Mary and bring Christ to our world, and to be like John the Baptist and point the way to the Saving Lord. In all we do, and all we experience, God is there, and we are called to see Him, to announce Him. This quote from St. John Chrysostom of John the Baptist can certainly be considered a solid and unmistakable blueprint for our own lives:
He has not yet left the womb but he speaks by leaping;
he is not yet allowed to cry out but he makes himself heard by his actions;
he has not yet seen the light but he points out the Sun.”
So I’ve changed. I’ve replaced my nagging question “Why am I here?” with much less simple questions I now ask myself instead. Let me share with you these three ponderings. Maybe let’s take a moment and ask them of ourselves together right now:
Who have we been Christ to today?
Who has been Christ to us today?
How have we failed today in being Christ, recognizing Christ?
Dear God of all, thank you for the gift of your most precious presence. Grant us the grace to see you in the face of every person we encounter, and to be the face Christ to every person we meet. Amen.
Paul Puccinelli is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Rita Parish in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Retreat-Team at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center.