“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’” (Lk. 1:39-45)
The story of the Visitation presents us with profound insight into the life and mission of the Christian. Mary, having received in her womb the mystery of the Word made flesh, does not contain this awesome mystery, she does not withdraw for nine months of solitude and private contemplation. Rather she sets off “with haste,” propelled by the Holy Spirit to radiate the reality of Emmanuel, God with us. Encountering God leads her to encounter others so that they too may experience the joy of knowing God in Jesus Christ. In this way the Visitation is Mary’s response to the Incarnation, the indwelling of God: a response that calls her outwards, to the outskirts, to the hill country.
This is the power of the Word of God; a word that is potent, vibrant, and alive. It is a Word that pushes us outside ourselves, propelling us to set out towards others in a spirit of service, humility, and charity. This is the essence of evangelization, being transformed and being an agent of transformation in the lives of others. Like Mary, our radical experience of Jesus cannot be stifled; our relationship with Christ must be lived in the context of the world and in relationship with others. Not so that it may be diluted but so that it might bear fruit. This is the mission of the Church, the Body of Christ, to go out from Jesus, immersed in his presence that we might bear this presence to others. As Catholics, we receive the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and are sent forth at the end of each liturgy to go, to love, to serve; to carry Christ with us into the concrete circumstances of our lives.
In the General Congregations that preceded the recent conclave, then Cardinal Bergoglio spoke the following words on the nature of the New Evangelization:
“Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”
This mission to the peripheries, the “periferia” in Italian is precisely what Mary shows us by her Visitation to Elizabeth. Let us ask ourselves, what are the peripheries and hill countries of our lives? Who are our
Elizabeths and what are we doing to bring them Jesus? Certainly our own family and relatives, our friends and coworkers; but also the stranger we pass on the street, the neighbour we wish we didn’t have, the people we have to go out of our way in order to appreciate, and the people who cause us to “travel” some distance in order to visit. To all of these we must bring the gift of Jesus; that their hearts like Elizabeth may exclaim with wonder, and their souls like John the Baptist leap for joy. The Church like the Blessed Mother, and we as its members, must be the mysterium lunae
, the moon that radiates not its own light but the light of Christ. His presence, his light, and his love we must bear to our brothers and sisters and evangelize in such a way that we are driven to the peripheries, where we encounter God in the Elizabeths and bring the Elizabeths to encounter God. Let us never fear or be reticent, for it is the Lord who draws us to this mission, accompanies us on it, and shows us where we are to go. On this feast of the Visitation, may we too “set out and go with haste” to the hill countries to reach out, to bring Christ, to bring joy, and be propelled by the presence of God’s Word alive in our midst; in short, to evangelize.
(Text courtesy of Oremus Bible Browser and Vatican Radio; Photo courtesy of life.remixed)