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Encounter a promise of life

Lk 1:39-45

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste”. Mary, whom the angel’s greeting has just filled with grace, pays a visit to her cousin Elizabeth: Elizabeth, who was barren in her old age received God’s mercy, the promise of a son, who was to be the “prophet of the Most High” (Lk1:76). Their wombs are made fruitful by the presence of the Lord, the trustworthy Word who is always a promise of life.

Pablo Picasso, “Two Sisters” or “The Meeting” (1902)

Mary, the welcoming womb in which the face of the God-with-us, the Emmanuel, is shaped is the daughter of Zion who fulfils the expectation of the People of Israel (cf. Zech 2:14), and at the same time the figure of the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven (cf. Rev 21:2). Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth, moves “in haste”; with the prospect of the meeting, she seems to be urged on, striving to move forward, prompted by an urgency that reveals a mark of her quality in her inmost depths: she is bearing Christ within her, in silence, in wonder and in joy.

She arrives at “the home of Zechariah”: Luke the Evangelist notes of the elderly priest and his wife Elizabeth that “they were both righteous before God” (Lk 1:6).

It is Mary’s Shalom, her greeting which means “peace” that fills the house, that becomes an event, a messianic peace ever awaited and longed for. And these are the effects of this greeting on Elizabeth: the child she carries in her womb leaps, he “frolics” and dances with joy at Mary’s voice, recognizing and already indicating Jesus as the Messiah.

Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, begins to speak, exclaiming “with a loud cry”: it is now her voice that guides us in the encounter. This meeting is to be accepted as a visit of the Lord. It is not enough that the Lord’s visit occurs, the one who is visited must recognize the visit as such.

The elderly woman blesses the young one and the fruit of her womb, the Blessed One. The fact that Mary, “the mother of my Lord”, draws close to her, recalls the ark of the Covenant the bringing of which is a source of exultation and a cause of blessing (cf. 2 Sam 6).

Elizabeth’s last words are a beatitude, the bursting into history of messianic joy. Mary is called blessed and she is so for a single reason: because she believed in the fulfilment of the Lord’s word. She trusted, she entrusted herself to that word even though it must have seemed to her so unimaginable. She had faith. And her faith shines out as a desire for an encounter and a hymn of praise, which will burst forth in the subsequent verses: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk 1:46)

El Greco, “The Visitation” (detail, 1610-1613)

An encounter is recounted to us as good news, as a Gospel, the encounter between two women who were able to welcome and to recognize within them God’s action, the germination of life. The virgin and the barren woman are both made fertile by the fire of the Holy Spirit who embraces them as a shadow: one recognizes herself as “the handmaid of the Lord”, capable of a radical and unconditional “yes”, and the other has the daring and tenacity to say “no”, because the name of the child must be John, as was announced in the temple to Zechariah (who was able to speak again, to “bene-dire” [in Italian, “to speak well” and “to bless”] (cf. Lk 1:64) only after that “no”.

It is in the encounter of these two women that the history of salvation is unravelled: John the Baptist, who with his whole self will make himself “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3:4), now, even before he is born, already exults in the bursting in of God’s today in Jesus.

It is God who “has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree” (Lk 1:52), who “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Lk 1:69). It is God who urges us to the encounter, who invites us to recognize that every encounter is attracted and passed through by his presence: each one of us is called to tend the fire of the Spirit, to let his light radiate on his or her own face, to make his presence prevail in every meeting.

As we look at Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, as we let ourselves be accompanied by the meeting of these two women, let us prepare our whole being for listening to the other, to the Lord who comes to meet us in the other, in any other person, near or far, so that in every encounter we may find and give joy, strength, comfort and hope to our day!




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 16, 2019