The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
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. Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, “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.”
In 1987 I was a senior in high school and on retreat with my classmates in the hills above Malibu. Wow, what a tough area for a teen to have to go on retreat. It was a great weekend, though, as we discussed God and how he related to us as young men in the world, and as we played games and ate good food, and really had nothing to worry about.
Until it was time to prepare to receive the Holy Eucharist.
We were told to go to confession before mass. All the while standing in line I was thinking, “Let’s see… I can’t tell him that or that, oooh, and certainly not that!” I was so embarrassed of the things I’d done. I just couldn’t tell anyone… but especially not a priest! I was so ashamed of so very much, the least of which was that this was the first time I’d be going to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation through all of high-school.
When I finally went in I was honest and embarrassed, and the priest didn’t seem surprised or put off by anything I said. He gave me my penance, which consisted of one Our Father and 3 Hail Marys, and then think about what I’d done. I diligently prayed those prayers, thought about what I’d done, and then I thought something else. At the time, I didn’t realize how silly it was.
“Confession is silly.
I don’t need a middleman.
I’m just going to tell God directly.
That’ll be good enough.”
I’ll bet I’m not alone in that thought…
Fast-forward 25 years and I had not been to confession since that retreat. I’d become incredibly weary of trying to ignore God’s call to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I was so broken I didn’t think anyone could put me back together again. But, friends, let me tell you something – I mustered up all my courage and went. I was in the confessional for what seemed like a half-hour, and when it was done I went to perform my penance. This time it was also one Our Father, and three Hail Marys, but I was directed to go and sit with the Blessed Sacrament, quietly, and ponder the words to those prayers as I offered them. I’d prayed them so many times, though! What new things could there be for me to think about? Well, at that moment, I became the silly one…
Here are the three parts of the Lord’s Prayer that stung me most.
This means that everyone is my sister or brother. Even that beggar on the freeway off-ramp and the thief that stole my identity.
“Thy will be done…”
This means I must let go of my agenda and embrace what God wants. But I want what I want!
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Uh-oh. So, I’m telling God that I expect to be forgiven, but *only* to the extent to which I’m willing to forgive that person that hit me? The person who lied? Or stole from me? Betrayed me… destroyed me to my core?
Pretty big thoughts.
But it was my reflecting on the Ave Maria – the Hail Mary – the simple prayer to our Mother of Sorrows, the Mater Dolorosa, that hit me most deeply.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb – Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, sinners,
and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Which part of that prayer, first uttered by St. Elizabeth, stands out most to you? For me, it was these two lines: “The Lord is with thee. Pray for us, sinners.”
We, sinners, who need all the help we can get, have it, if only we would ask. That day, this prayer from the beautiful Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary reminded me that I’m not alone, even if I feel like I am, even if I want to be. If only I tear down my walls and open my heart, I’d have the space for God, my Father, Jesus, my Brother, the Holy Spirit, breath in me.
Well, after I pondered all this, and more, I experienced the most amazing thing… Friends, there is nothing I’ve felt more powerfully than when I’ve received Jesus during communion after receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The intimate and powerful meeting with God is amplified so deeply when we acknowledge our failings and our brokenness, and then get to actually hear someone tell us, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Now I hit the confessional regularly… and boy do I need it. And the Ave Maria is one of my favorite prayers. But perhaps when I next pray the beautiful Hail Mary I’ll be reminded that she’s waiting to visit me, to help me, to ask God to be with me when I’m most in need.
Like right now. And tomorrow.
And at the hour of my death. 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.