Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Visitation by Fra Angelico, 1432-34

Today, the Church rejoices in thanksgiving for Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that “the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her” (CCC, no. 2682).  In the story of the Visitation, Mary teaches us not only how to give praise to God, but also how to respond to God’s love in action.

Mary’s cooperation first teaches us the way of obedience to God’s will. “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:37) is the prayer of every man and woman seeking to live the Christian way of life.  Then, her spoken commitment is confirmed in action as she moves – with haste – to visit her cousin, who herself has experienced the miracle of a pregnancy that is important to God’s plan for salvation.  In the joy of the cousins’ greeting we are given part of one of the most beloved prayers in the Catholic tradition – the Hail Mary, “blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). In hearing Elizabeth’s response, we also become witnesses to the first time in Scripture that Mary’s faith is praised.

This two-fold response of faith and action is a lesson for us that faith is inseparable from charity.  Hearing God’s Word invites us to respond not just in praise but also in loving acts such as Mary’s assistance to her cousin as Elizabeth neared the end of her pregnancy.  Mary teaches us to go out of ourselves on a journey of sacrifice, love and service, so that as pilgrims on the road, we may sing the wonders that God has done in us as he promised.

In this, Mary becomes an example of Christian virtue.  As Saint Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a model of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ (Lumen Gentium 63, see also Deus Caritas Est, 41-42).  Among the members of the Church, she stands out as eminent in holiness.  Catholics of every rank and condition can find in Mary a model of faith, obedience, purity, poverty of spirit and generous love.

This year, the Feast of the Visitation falls soon after the Church’s celebration of Pentecost and the opening of our Archdiocesan Synod.  In hearing that Mary moved with haste, we are reminded that with the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit comes a certain urgency to be about God’s work.  As an archdiocese, we are asking ourselves how we can be the best Church God calls us to be.  As we look around our community, we see many people and situations crying out for an experience of Mary’s maternal love that can be revealed in our acts of charity as individuals and as a Church.

In my reflections on the New Evangelization: Passing on the Catholic Faith Today, I pointed to Mary’s Visitation of Elizabeth as a model for our own sense of urgency as participants of the New Evangelization.  Clearly among the qualities of the disciple who shares the Good News is the realization that there is no time to be lost because the mission is so important.

Today, in a special way, we ask Mary’s intercession.  When God chose Mary as the mother of Jesus, he called her to have a universal loving concern for all who have been redeemed by Jesus.  As an outgrowth of her close union with her Son, she embraces each of us in all our needs.  She cares with intense personal love for the fulfillment of his work of salvation.  The Archdiocesan Synod and its goal to set some priorities to direct our work over the coming years is a sign and action of our fidelity to God’s plan of salvation played out in the local Church.