We were on our usual weekend double date when Angie told us she was pregnant, her first. I was pregnant too, four months, my second. Our husbands beamed as we chatted about symptoms and cravings, hopes and dreams as preparations made their way to our due dates. Four months after I gave birth to my son, Hannah entered our world, giving us plenty of reason to sing. Songs have been such an integral part of my relationship with Angie. As long-time music ministry members, they have strengthened our friendship through our common love for worship.
And here, beholding those angelic lips and precious hands, as new songs filled the room, something unexpected happened. Hannah was diagnosed with jaundice, contracted a severe infection and was immediately isolated. Suddenly everything was falling apart. The stress and anxiety of a new mother only added to nursing challenges, delaying Hannah’s progress. We were grieving and desperate for relief.
Sisters in Joy and in Sorrow
One afternoon after praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, something crossed my mind. The doctor made his regular visit and I probed the possibility of nursing Hannah every day. He immediately agreed, explaining how this was common in Middle Eastern cultures with large families. Angie and I rushed over and I held Hannah. Her latch was immediate and our relief indescribable, almost sacred. I could feel my body unclench with deep sighs and stillness as hot tears flowed. In a few days, we were home, carrying with us a memory that could best be described as our own personal “visitation” moment.
The feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary invites us to look deeply into this dynamic of love, this innate capacity inside us women to draw others’ out of despair into joy. As Mary and Elizabeth meet, Saint Luke reveals that there is more going on than just a happy family reunion. There is history being made as their stories intersect: the younger one Mary pregnant with the Christ Child and Elizabeth carrying His forerunner, John the Baptist. Both pregnancies are challenging. Both are miraculous.
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Arise and Hasten
Drawing from Luke 1:39-45 as Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to meet Elizabeth, Pope Francis says, “She (Mary) is the virgin of readiness, Our Lady of Haste.”
The difficult journey uphill to Ain Karim could have tempted Mary to stay home seeking her own comfort but Mary moved forward with urgency. She arose. “Arise” is a verb. “Go”, Jesus told his disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Arise—it’s a call to action. It speaks resurrection; it is an awakening to new life. This is the mandate of evangelization. To go forth!
We live in a generation of the “here and now”, following quick fixes and hastening our way to our dreams. How often do we hasten our needs and ignore our sisters living next door? Mary teaches us “haste”, but not the kind of haste where we don’t know what it means to wait; rather, haste to share and haste to serve, even at great risk. Mary’s missionary journey leads her far from home, compelling her into places alien to her daily habits.
In a hurting and broken world, where is God calling you to make haste? Perhaps hasten to visit a friend you know is suffering? Perhaps hasten to reconcile with a family member? In following the trail of the young woman of Nazareth, don’t we discover that such paths only lead to a better, fairer, less cruel and a more humane world we all long for?
My Own Visitation
In Luke 1:46-55, following Elizabeth’s greeting, we read that Mary bursts forth into song, or canticle, that we know as “The Magnificat”. In her book, Manual for Women, Danielle Bean says, “This is us. Even in the darkest of places women bring life. We bring love. We bring hope to a fallen world.”
We bring a new song.
Who in your life needs your song today? Where is God calling you to give someone a reason to praise even in suffering?
A Mystery of Joy
Pope Francis says, “The mystery of the Visitation is a mystery of joy,” because Mary carries Jesus with her, the Source of joy. He is the reason for her song. The beauty of this feast lies not only in Mary visiting Elizabeth but also in Jesus visiting Elizabeth. And Jesus visits us, and, in Him, we too can live and relive our own “visitation” moments.
He visits us in conversations we didn’t really want to have but knew we needed. He visits us in the birth of new babes and beginnings. He visits us in moments of doubt and despair. He visited me in the hospital as I shared in Angie’s burden; He has visited me this past year through my mom’s illness. He visits me now. Jesus visits you now. Jesus is hidden within us, within every person, in what Saint John of the Cross calls our deepest center.
The Visitation teaches us that when Christ becomes the source of our joy, He is uncontainable and worth celebrating. In contrast to our individualistic world so focused on competition, comparison, and celebration of self-accomplishments, Mary shows us how to celebrate “our thunder” with our sisters. Mary received the greatest honor in Salvation History, but desired to celebrate Elizabeth’s miracle. Elizabeth bypassed the joy of her own miraculous pregnancy to honor Mary’s good news. This shared joy allowed both women to be edified, supported, and celebrated.
Mary and Elizabeth’s soul-bearing friendship teaches us intentional discipleship. Our common love for Jesus must lead us to recognize each other’s vocation and gifts. We need each other to achieve our common goal of sanctity. We need frequent pauses in our fast-paced world to step in and celebrate, even without “reason”. We need to celebrate women who celebrate us.
Perhaps as you pray the second joyful mystery of the Rosary, slip in an extra prayer of thanksgiving for women in your life who are special to you.
A Church Alive
In January, I launched my ministry’s first women’s community. We had women from across 25 countries and from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences. We had one common goal: Jesus. It was humbling to see grandmothers and moms, teenagers and women who had been impacted by infertility, miscarriage, abuse and loss come forward to serve. It was also incredible to witness older women devoting their lives toward younger women. Such a vivid picture of the Church. Isn’t this what the Visitation must lead to? A Church alive. A Church bursting forth into songs of triumph and transformation.
Sister, are there people in your life who need your time? God has placed them in your path for you to do life with, to share and strengthen, and to invest in deeply. There are friends who need a coffee moment and those that need you to “hasten” to them. There are friends who wait to “visit” Jesus in you and those who desperately need the light of Easter, a Church alive within you.
My prayer for you is that, as find your own sweet visitation moment, you have the courage to carry your song to a broken friend. And I pray that, as you sing together “the Almighty has done great things”, you might rest—trusting the Promises of God and knowing deeply that the best is still ahead.
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