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Two Extraordinary Motherhoods

The story of the Visitation (Lk 1:39–45) is often pointed to as the model of a fruitful exchange between women, and helps one understand how much mutual acknowledgement helps women in the discernment and fostering of the signs of transformation that pervade history. Mary and Elizabeth are both bearers of a mystery that seeks to be embraced and protected so that it might come to light, and in coming to acknowledge eachother they strengthen and support one another. In acts of courage, albeit silent, the prophetic promises are fulfilled. The first creation and the new intersect and reveal themselves to be part of one single design.

Elizabeth, an old and sterile woman who becomes a mother by a grace beyond all possibility, appears as a figure of a weary and barren humanity, whose unexpected fruit is like the last drop of a final squeeze constituting the living seed through which the new will be able to be implanted. Mary instead expresses the re-awakening of the original innocence that remained unpolluted and preserved in the depths of humanity since the beginning. The archangel Gabriel’s greeting, given by God’s stronghold to she who is “full of grace”, highlights the strength of the soul rooted in the Spirit. Gabriel alludes to the state of grace that the virgin of Nazareth embodies.

Elizabeth’s five months of seclusion represent a veiled time in which the Holy Spirit operates in secret, bringing conditions to maturity. These months allude to the first five days of creation in which living beings remain yet innocent and unaware in God’s womb. They call to mind the creaturely state, Abel’s pure offering, but also the multiplication of five loaves that fed the hunger of five thousand in the desert, for humanity is called to respond and each one to give what he or she has.

The Annunciation takes place during Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy. And on the sixth day human beings were created, and there is still time left which the Incarnation of the Word brings to fulfillment. Nevertheless, “he who is to be born” and who will be “called Son of God” will be able to manifest his human fullness only if he is received. And he will be received precisely by those who first followed his precursor, who are open to the voice of the Baptist calling for conversion.

At a certain point these two extraordinary motherhoods converge. Immediately after the Annunciation Mary rushes to Elizabeth. The need to verify and discuss these things with her becomes urgent. Her hurried flight is the result of her disturbance. Everything is too large and unbearable. Notwithstanding her consent, in her humanness she feels inadequate. All means are employed to help her face this newness in all its shock. The mountain is there to mark the most elevated place of the old world, that which touches heaven, open to the Annunciation because new creation cannot come out of anything else. Rather, it must take root in the first creation so as to transform it from within, to regenerate what has become heavy and lacking life, dead.

As soon as Mary and Elizabeth meet one another they recognize each other upon the leaping of their children in their wombs. Mary’s greeting is perceived as a force of reinvigoration. The living seed in the womb of old humanity is like a spark near fire and is inundated with the light that emanates from the “blessed fruit.” This leads Elizabeth, who full of the Holy Spirit is promptly moved to recognize the “blessed one” among all women, the mother of her Lord.

The meeting of the virgin mother, incarnation of creative power in its peak, and the aged mother, symbol of weary humanity that offers through her son the best part of herself, thus constitutes the premise of fulfillment. In a time of darkness, this mutual recognition helps two women remain faithful to the mysterious work invested in them and which makes of them instruments. This they accept, protect, keep in the silence of their hearts, yet together spout the wisdom of their hearts and trust without reservations. The story highlights the lightness of grace when it works without encountering resistance.

In the gospels Mary says little, but the Magnificat might be considered the seal that confirms the fiat. It expresses the fullness of the prophetic vision, the culmination that signals the passage from innocence to awareness, the birth of a consciousness able to see the regenerative work that the Holy Spirit stirs in humanity.

The visitation therefore becomes a model of encounters between women that help what is feminine to unfold. It is not any acknowledgment of the world that makes this live and be. Rather, it is knowing oneself by way of acknowledging that women give of themselves to each other and attribute value to their respective intrinsic potential, that they help each other remain open to the miracle that the creative act constantly advances in the invisible. These acts need to be protected in silence, with humility, patience, steadfastness and total abandon to bring them to light and maturity. Only knowing oneself and seeing oneself in this intimacy is there the rootedness that is necessary for expansion.

by Antonella Lumini




St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 28, 2020