4th. Sunday of Advent (C)
It has been noted from very early times in the Church that John the Baptist, while still in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, ‘leapt for joy’ at the presence of Jesus being carried by Mary whereas Elizabeth responded to the presence of Mary:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Why did not Elizabeth -- together with her own as yet unborn son -- rejoice at the presence of Mary’s baby which she acknowledges as being ‘her Lord’, rather than at the immediate presence of Mary herself?
As of old, many of our Protestant brethren still feel jealous for the honour of Jesus; but we Catholics should rather gratefully rejoice in and learn from the sublime truths contained in St. Luke’s gospel account of The Visitation.
Listen again carefully to Elizabeth’s words of greeting to Mary; her first words– at the instigation of her own child leaping for joy at Jesus’ proximity -- are words with reference to Mary as mother of the Child she was carrying
Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
But then she goes on to speak adult to adult, woman to woman, Israelite to Israelite:
Dear People of God, the whole story of God’s dealings with His Chosen People started with God making a promise to Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a child despite their old age. Abraham believed that promise of God, he believed you might say against all medical probabilities and despite the deep disappointments he and Sarah had suffered repeatedly over many years because of their childlessness, a state so alien to Israel’s traditions. Abraham glorified God by putting more trust in His spoken promise than in his own years of bitter experience and the no doubt snide words of other Israelites not above commenting on their lack of offspring. St. Paul tells us that such trust in God:
Was credited to his (Abraham’s) account as righteousness. (Romans 4:3)
Thus, he was to be the father of all who believe, so that to them also righteousness may be credited. (Romans 4:11)
He is our father in the sight of God, in Whom he believed, Who gives life to the dead and calls into being what did not exist. (Romans 4:17)
That is how God’s People came into being, through FAITH, and that is why Elizabeth, herself rejoicing in the fulfilment of a promise of God, greeted Mary personally saying:
Blessed are you WHO BELIEVED that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.
St. Augustine puts it very clearly when he writes that Mary conceived Jesus in her heart by faith before she conceived Him physically in her womb; words which are an echo of the teaching of Jesus Himself (Luke 11:27-28):
A woman from the crowd called out and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that carried You and the breasts at which You nursed.” He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and (believing) observe it.”
And so, dear People of God, we who follow St. Luke’s lead and join with Elizabeth in her greeting to Mary, are brought back to Jesus immediately and with deepened conviction, for Mary’s faith is in the miraculous Gift of God’s own Son which no human mind could then conceive without God’s most special grace … given to Joseph and now to Elizabeth thanks to the closeness of their spiritual relationship with Mary. Give thanks to God, dear Catholic people, for the wondrous beauty of His truth!
And how much we need Mary’s example and Elizabeth’s spiritual awareness this Christmas time where all the celebrations seem to trumpet but one thing: GIFTS manifesting human GOOD WILL!! And people say, “Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?” In our modern western world God’s Gift to man is forgotten, ignored, while so many people publicly rejoice about their own giving-gifts-goodness, without the need of any God interfering in their lives.
However, Mary has another supremely important lesson for us to appreciate in this Advent time.
God the Father Himself, by His Spirit, made Mary of Nazareth one with Jesus through faith, love, and body-and-blood physicality; in no way are they to be separated. Mary is now living eternally in heaven for the glory of God, and her prayerful influence on earth is totally for the glory of her dear Son in the hearts of all men, so that those well-known words of Jesus:
What God has joined together, let no man separate
are most important and significant for our considerations today.
In Luke’s story of the Visitation of Our Lady, Mary is shown as a figure, a foreshadowing, of the Church: Mary is, by Jesus’ gift, our heavenly mother; the Church is our spiritual mother on earth, for as Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Church gives birth to disciples of Jesus who are born from her proclamation of His Good News or birth from her womb -- the baptismal font -- by the power of the Holy Spirit bequeathed to her by Jesus; Mary is praised in Scripture as ‘she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled’ while Mother Church ‘unfailingly adheres to the faith … delivered once for all to the saints’. We have to recognize this mystery of the real oneness between Jesus and Mary, and also the spiritual oneness between Mary and Mother Church; and we should learn from St. Luke to reverence the Church as Elizabeth reverenced Mary; it is only the devil who works to separate what God has joined.
Jesus has promised to be with His Church to the end of time; He has given His Holy Spirit in fullness to His Church, to guide her into all truth; when His disciples gather together as Church Jesus is infallibly in their midst; and He has promised that He will defend her against the Devil’s attempts to destroy her. As we heard in the second reading that:
For this reason, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; holocausts and sin offerings You took no delight in. Then I said, ‘As is written of Me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do Your will, O God.’”
The Son of God took a human body from Mary in order to do His Father’s will on earth for our salvation; so, now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, He still uses His body to continue His Father’s work: but not the fleshly one -- which is, as I have said, at His Father’s side in heavenly glory -- but a mystical body, His Church, of which He is the Head.
Human beings, even those most highly placed in the Church, even those subsequently recognized as Saints, are weak, and at times may manifest those weaknesses, failings, and even sins. Mother Church is greater than any individual, even greater than Mary who is a member of the Church, and as such is of the Church, in the Church, not above her. And so, we must reverence Mother Church given to us for our salvation by the Lord Who is her Master and ours. He uses His Church, our earthly Christian-and-Catholic Mother, to guide us and bless us; and He never allows the inherent human weakness of her individual members to betray His divine Truth committed to her for protection and proclamation for the salvation of mankind.
People of God learn from Elizabeth; she was, as the Gospel tells us, ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and the Holy Spirit led her to cry out:
And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Reverence and love, honour and delight in, Mary, now Queen of Heaven but ever our deeply-concerned Mother and occasional visitant; and in the same spirit pray and stand up for, serve and trust in, Mother Church, not because of her earthly pomp, prestige or influence, but because she is the instrument Christ wills to use, she is His Mystical Body; He is her Head and His Spirit is her very life …. Such is the purpose of God that, as loving and obedient children of her He has chosen to serve His purposes of salvation, His Spirit will fill our lives and form us ever more and more into the likeness of Him Who is to come, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who is our present hope and will be our future reward.